Different things push each of us off balance at work. Some employees are thrown off by the slightest commotion, like street noise or swinging doors–while others believe their productivity is killed by bigger disruptions, like unscheduled meetings or frequent phone calls.
But there is one thing that distracts almost everyone in the office: Noisy co-workers.
A new survey by Ask.com, an online question answering service, found that a majority of U.S. employees (61%) agree that loud colleagues are the biggest office distraction.
“This wasn't too shocking,” says Lisa Ross, vice president of human resources at Ask.com. “Our internal surveys show that our own employees also put this at the top of the list.”
Harris Interactive conducted a nation-wide survey on behalf of Ask.com, in which they canvassed more than 2,060 professionals ages 18 and up between March 26 and March 28, to unearth the preferences and habits of U.S. office workers when it comes to an optimally productive environment.
The Office Workplace Productivity study, which was released on Tuesday, showed that noisy co-workers aren’t the only major productivity killers in the office.
“It's not always obvious what exactly is sapping productivity,” Ross says. “In fact, the culprit can often be counterintuitive. It's also increasingly difficult to strike the balance between fostering a creative, collaborative environment with one that also respects the need for focus. You want people to enjoy coming to work, but if you're inadvertently creating barriers to them actually executing, you're getting in your own way.”
As it turns out, telecommuting, group projects, impromptu meetings, cubicles, sitting next to the boss, and face-to-face interactions are other big culprits.
That’s right: The preference to work from home isn’t as prevalent as you may have thought. A majority of respondents (63%) said when it comes time to focus they prefer their personal workspace over working from home.
“I was surprised by this,” Ross says. “I thought, if you're working in your home office alone, what better place for focus time? But I realize that working from home presents plenty of distractions of its own.”
The survey also found that 86% of respondents prefer to work alone to hit maximum productivity, “suggesting that while group-oriented workplace perks like foosball and bean bag lounges have become popular tools for unlocking creativity and boosting morale, they don’t always drive efficiency,” Ask.com says.
Ross says employers used to “over-engineer collaboration with things like pool tables, foosball and video games, but with today's fluid and untethered work environment, people don't need a gimmick to gravitate to each other, they do it organically [when it’s necessary].” In turn, creating a personal space where you can tune out the outside world and maximize output has become more valuable, she adds.
Forty percent of respondents named impromptu meetings from co-workers stopping by their workspace as another major office distraction. In fact, almost half (46%) said they primarily communicate with co-workers through e-mail, IM or phone to avoid the distractions that come along with face-to-face interactions (like idle chatter).
Despite citing noisy co-workers and face-to-face interactions as top distractions, more than a quarter of respondents (27%) believe they’d be more productive in an “open room” or “newsroom” setting, as opposed to a cube farm or a workspace with separate offices.
“Cubicles have been called ‘monolithic insanity’ by the man who invented them, and we've only relatively recently seen a shift to alternatives,” Ross says. “They are great for maximizing office space, but cubes are not known for being particularly exciting or inspiring. Your personal workspace is where you spend the bulk of your time and I think office workers in general are hungry for something different. The popularity of television shows like 'The Newsroom' likely contribute to the nationwide interest in learning more about that approach.”
Ross says this one’s tricky because while there’s a desire for an open, newsroom-like atmosphere, employees also want to minimize distraction and outside static. “I think this represents the challenging balance today's work atmosphere has to strike.”
Finally, the survey revealed that more than a third of those who have a boss said sitting and working alongside a higher-up can kill productivity. In fact, 38% would rather do “unpleasant activities,” such as opt for more work, sit next to someone who eats loudly, or take on a longer commute, than sit next to their boss.
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