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The Role of Technology in Transforming the Incredible Shrinking Office into the Incredibly Productive Office

By Amy Barzdukas, Workplace Evangelist and CMO, Plantronics

The Role of Technology in Transforming the Incredible Shrinking Office into the Incredibly Productive OfficeAmy Barzdukas, Workplace Evangelist and CMO, Plantronics

We’ve all seen it: our offices are moving from the traditional four walls - to no walls. A need to reduce costs in facility spend is a key driver, and technology advances are making it possible. The trick, of course, is to make sure that team effectiveness, employee productivity and satisfaction aren’t sacrificed in the process.

The workplace of the future should focus on creating the right space for employee engagement, creativity, and collaboration –breaking down the walls and silos that inhibit innovation. You can thank the open office movement for starting a conversation about how to engage people in mixed spaces more effectively; how to break down traditional hierarchies; and, how to turn concepts such as collaboration and transparency into convention.

However, as offices evolve into open spaces, we’re discovering that there are challenges that need addressing, such as noise and distraction. Not surprisingly, a lack of quiet spaces also impacts on employee productivity and collaboration. A global survey by Oxford Economics found that noise and distractions, increasingly found within today’s modern workplaces are having a negative impact on employee wellness, productivity and even financial performance.

Top Tips for Helping Employees Transition to the Open Office

As ICT professionals know, when it comes to managing workplace change and introducing new technologies, there is no one right answer. Different generations of employees and different employee personality types will respond differently to changes within their workplace environment. As you navigate the ‘devil in the details’ there are, however, some key things to keep in mind.

1. Creating the Right Mix of Workspaces

The concept of open office environments can work smarter with the right technology and tools to empower communication, connections, and collaboration among employees while managing noise and distractions.

Increasingly, we are seeing the best open space outcomes when facilities, management, HR and IT work together to collaborate on office design, technology needs and change management. One of our major customers in NZ is a retail bank and for their new building, that’s exactly how they approached it.

Let’s not forget introverts. They, along with their extrovert colleagues, need space to have meetings without disturbing others; as well as private spaces for focused work, recharging or personal calls.

The workplace of the future should focus on creating the right space for employee engagement, creativity, and collaboration

Unhappy employees will vote with their feet - the Oxford Economics survey showed that employees in noisy office environments are more likely to leave their job within six months. The costs of turnover are too high to ignore!

2. Equipping Employees with the Right Tools

Within open work spaces, voice distraction is a real challenge. Humans are hardwired to pay attention to the human voice – it’s been a critical survival mechanism, to hear the warnings or alerts from others. It’s much easier to tune out the sound of traffic, car alarms or even train whistles than it is to tune out the human voice.

Once distracted, the average employee takes 23 minutes to refocus and get back to working productively. In fact, on average, 86 minutes a day are lost due to distractions for office workers!

Let’s put those numbers into the kinds of numbers that really impact business. Consider this: in a company of 500 employees, assume 53 percent will be distracted at least once a day–that’s 265 employees with an average of 23 minutes each required to refocus. If you assume the average hourly cost per employee is $50 per hour that adds up to $25,400 per week in lost productivity. Ouch!

Beyond equipping people with tools to improve productivity, it also helps to ensure the mix of work spaces are equipped with great technology too. For instance, having good video technology in meeting rooms will really drive better teamwork and culture for globally distributed teams. We know from our own Polycom Huddle Room Report , that over half of respondents across Asia Pacific, prefer to use collaboration technologies like audio and video conferencing and content sharing in their small meeting rooms.

On average, businesses in all countries surveyed had at least 3–5 small meeting areas and respondents unanimously reported that holding internal team meetings was their main reason for using a huddle room.

3. Understanding the Role of Mother Nature

There is more that can be done to make open environments more productive for employees using “biophilic science.” Put simply, bringing nature into the office can help make employees happier and healthier.

Natural sounds enhance cognitive functioning and increase overall worker satisfaction – and Plantronics has been its own guinea pigs on how to make this really work. Through research we did with several academic institutions we were able to discover that water is the most effective, and most comfortable, speech masker.

New technologies like Habitat Soundscaping Solutions–which combine sensors, speakers and visual cues, like waterfall features, intelligently monitor workplace acoustics and respond to that noise with the pleasing sound of water. Distraction sensors detect changing noise levels and dynamically adjust speaker volume in surrounding areas to support collaboration without disrupting nearby focused work – effectively reducing distraction and stress and improving creativity and employee satisfaction.

A Few Final Thoughts

Real estate costs are not going away. The shift from four walls to no walls is fast becoming reality for all of us –regardless of our role within our organisation. The challenge now is to ensure the shrinking office becomes the productive office for every member of your team –from extrovert to introvert. When you combine the right ingredients – creating a variety of spaces, equipping employees with the right tools and adding a dash of biophilic science - you will be on the right path towards creating a technology enabled workspace with the essentials needed for success. Best of luck with the j ourney ahead!

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