Ensuring that employees have a productive and satisfying work environment is a major concern for many companies. No one wants to work in an atmosphere that makes them feel uncomfortable, distracted or anxious. In fact, the space where your staff works can have a direct impact on their performance.
But according to new research from Oxford Economics and audio electronics company Plantronics, most managers don't really understand the full impact of a distracting or uninspiring workplace. The study found that employees have a few common complaints about their work environments that make it difficult to be productive.
Inability to focus without interruptions
Oxford Economics found that employees place a high value on a distraction-free environment. The opportunity to concentrate without constant noise is one of the most desired features of an office setting, and yet the popular "open office" plan leaves a lot of room for distractions during the workday.
According to the survey, more than half of employees find ambient noise displeasing at work, yet only 39 percent of executives actually believe that an open floorplan negatively affects their workers.
Jeff Lowe, vice president of marketing at Smart Technologies, said that even the slightest bit of clatter can act as an interruption for employees. Sounds like chatter, sneezes and phone calls may be much more distracting than employers realize.
"Ambient noise and lack of personal space can make it hard for employees to concentrate and get things done," Lowe said. "All of this has led us to reimagine the workspace and productivity. Designing for today's workplace means building spaces that help employees be as productive as possible and do their best work." [See Related Story: A Workplace That Works: Designing an Inspiring Office]
Lack of access to appropriate technology
Many employees use their personal mobile devices for work purposes. However, only 40 percent say these personal devices integrate with their work technology, and only one-third say their devices are distraction-free for out-of-office work.
Employers don't always realize that their staff doesn't have the appropriate tools to do their jobs, and with the growing number of remote workers, this lack of access can impede your staff's workflow.
That's why it's so important for each worker to feel prepared for their job. For instance, Dan Pontefract, chief envisioner of telecommunications company Telus, said the company equips its employees with the proper technology to ensure a productive at-home experience.
It is also vital to ensure that the devices actually perform properly and efficiently, no matter the setting, said Anthony Bartolo, president of mobility and collaboration services at Tata Communications.
"We have all of the technology tools to be as effective at home as you are in the office or on the road — the location matters not," Bartolo said.
Because of the blurred boundaries between work and personal time, people may constantly feel pressured to respond to texts and emails right away, and they may have a fear of missing out even when they're in the workplace. More than one-third of employees admit that they use their devices mainly for these reasons, which can be distracting and unhealthy — the study noted that constant connectivity breeds compulsive behavior and burnout.
Maintaining a work environment that respects its employees' personal time is essential to avoiding this burnout, said Emmajane Varley, global head of insight, culture and group CEO communications at HSBC. As an employer, you should communicate exactly what you expect from your staff while being realistic and flexible, Varley said.
"Work enters your personal life all the time, so as far as I'm concerned, if my personal life enters my corporate life occasionally, that's the trade-off," Varley said.
An uninformed boss
Ignorance is not bliss in the workplace. The survey found that nearly two-thirds of executives believe their staff is equipped with the tools they need to deal with distractions, but less than half of employees agree. Dodging these issues will only make workers feel unappreciated and indifferent, Edward Cone, deputy director of thought leadership and technology practice lead at Oxford Economics, said in a statement.
"[Workplace distractions] have a big impact on productivity," Cone said. "These are issues that companies can address — but first, they need to acknowledge the problem."
This study was based on the responses of more than 1,200 senior executives and nonmanager employees across a variety of industries and functional areas.