The open office is designed to increase employee collaboration, but a new study from Oxford Economics, commissioned by audio pioneerPlantronics, finds that the resultant noise pollution of the open office is reaching epidemic levels. According to the findings, conditions have grown much worse since Oxford Economics conducted its first study in 2015.
Oxford Economics interviewed 500 senior executives and non-manager employees from many industries and functional areas for the 2018 study. Participants hailed from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, China, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway. The study also included detailed interviews with executives who are taking steps to deal with these business collaboration and productivity challenges in their open offices.
Among the findings:
Open Office Conditions Dramatically Decline
The majority of executives and employees report near-constant noise in their workplace and many say they lack quiet space for meetings or to focus. Conditions are much worse now than three years ago, yet the executive disconnect remains. Only 1 percent of employees (down from 20 percent in 2015) say they are able to block out distractions and concentrate without taking extra steps in the office. 54 percent of executives believe their employees have the tools they need to mitigate noise and distraction in the office, but only 29 percent of employees agree (down from 41 percent in 2015).
As a result, employees are taking matters into their own hands by leaving or tuning out their surroundings to get work done. 75 percent of employees say they need to take walks outside to focus, and 32 percent use headphones to block out distraction. Employees in the noisiest office environments are more likely to say they may leave their job in the next six months.
Wellness, Productivity and Financial Performance
The findings suggest that noise and distraction impact wellness, productivity and even financial performance, yet executives aren’t doing enough to address the problem. 63 percent of employees say they lack quiet space for focused work, which has a negative effect on their productivity, satisfaction and well-being. 96 percent of executives see employee productivity as critical to their financial performance, yet just 40 percent understand the link between noise, distraction and productivity. A mere 6 percent of executives report having equipped their office with noise mitigating features.
According to the study, millennials, or those aged 22 to 36, are more accustomed to an open office versus older colleagues, likely because they started careers in such a setting. Despite that, they are the first to acknowledge the issues that come with these environments and tend to deal with these challenges differently than their older colleagues. Millennial employees are:
• Much less likely to say they find a noisy working environment energizing (9 percent, versus 30 percent of older colleagues).
• Less satisfied with their office layout than older employees (38 percent of millennials versus 48 percent of others).
• More likely to say their organization should address noise, distraction and information overload (89 percent versus 75 percent of older coworkers).
• More likely to say they take walks outside to focus (84 percent versus 63 percent of older employees), and less likely to use an office break room or quiet space.
Top Performers Have the Right Recipe
The survey shows a correlation between companies’ revenue growth and how those same companies approach their work environments. More than three-quarters of top performers (revenue growth above 10 percent and less turnover) report that office design and noise mitigation are important to financial performance and are proactively addressing the noise epidemic in their offices. These top performing companies are:
• More likely to provide workers with tools to block out noise and quiet space to focus.
• Less likely to say some employees find a noisy environment energizing (28 percent versus 50 percent of others).
Plantronics commissioned the study to better understand how to help create environments where employees thrive. “This year’s results are telling – open offices may provide overall cost savings, but they’re taking a toll on our productivity and wellness,” said Jennifer Adams, director, Enterprise Solutions Marketing. “We’re applying nearly 60 years of expertise in acoustics to come up with a whole range of solutions to address these challenges, such as noise-cancelling headsets. Our vision: an open office that employees are excited to come into because it enhances their well-being and inspires them to do their best work.”