Open plan offices – collaborative working spaces or havens for distraction?
The landscape has changed dramatically in today's modern office environment, and we have become exposed to an ever-increasing number of distractions. We have become oblivious to the forces often hidden behind a mask of speed and convenience that conspire to rob us of our focus, concentration, and ability to organise, plan, and execute.
Being easily distracted varies from person to person. Some people may experience frequent internal distractions, such as anxiety about work tasks or worry about meeting deadlines, among other things. And for others, it could be external distractions and their ability to concentrate or focus on one task when there’s too much going on around them.
ADHD Breakthrough Study - MIT & New York University
"We receive all kinds of information from different sensory regions, and it all goes into the thalamus," Feng says. "All this information has to be filtered. Not everything we sense goes through." Therefore, if this process's gatekeeper is not functioning properly, it would allow too much information to bypass the filtering process, causing the person to become easily distracted or overwhelmed, leading to problems with attention and difficulty in learning.
How this could manifest in the workplace
As it's the TRNs job to regulate interactions critical for sensory processing, attention and understanding, dysfunction of the TRN could lead to sensory overload, attention dysregulation and sleep disturbance.
External distractions are firmly located in the modern work environment.
These communal workspaces do not lend themselves to deep thinking. Partially because sharing a close workspace with colleagues is incredibly distracting and obstructs any attempts at maintaining the attention levels required to complete a consistent standard of work.
It has been likened to Amazon's home assistant, Alexa, switched on to listen in on people's homes 24 hours a day to catch commands. Our brains can't ever switch off to what's happening around us. Even when we're not consciously paying attention to them, we always have our ears on the order of the sounds in the background. This means that when we have to focus on other sequences of information, such as a list of numbers, any background noise is particularly distracting, which has critical implications for how we work. Other common distractions include:
Addiction to Email
Why we become addicted to email checking
Unread messages - Each unread message holds out the promise of a pleasant surprise or some interesting or exciting news. So even if the thought of getting back on top of your post-holiday messages fills you with dread, you'll still be drawn to the task. We get a jolt of joy that some messages give us.
Primal impulse - Our addiction comes from a primal impulse to seek random rewards. This impulse drives us to check our inboxes over and over, even though we're unsure when the next reward will arrive. It keeps us sifting through the endless junk mail, tedious work, and family messages to find rare gems that make us feel excited and alive.
Progress paradox: Email affects our psychology in more ways than one. It also provokes a progress paradox. We're tricking our brains when we put off doing essential tasks by opening each email the moment it arrives. On the one hand, we feel productive because we're reducing the number of messages in our inboxes. Still, on the other hand, we're accomplishing next to nothing.
Nonetheless, getting the number of unread emails to zero is an almost irresistible reward since it triggers the same response we get from accomplishing an important task. Most people view time as a line that they progress through. But with email, the line has no particular beginning or end. There's no way to know where you are in your inbox until you have finished it. This ambiguity can make us feel anxious and uncertain about the future. A recent study found that individuals who use email at work experience more stress. And succumb to compulsive checking behaviours more often, leading to more anxiety and stress.
Beware of the Social Media Traps
How to recognise these traps
We all use a vast amount of energy in how we interact with the world. This drains our ability to think clearly, indicating that our capacity for active thought is a limited resource. Therefore, we must learn to conserve this resource at every opportunity.
As social media provides a constant connection to the outer world, it's becoming ever more difficult for us to foster a space for self-reflection and self-realisation. As a result, we are constantly awaiting feedback and looking for approval from the outside world instead of looking inward and finding out what we think.
Leaving your smartphone on and your email open can lower your IQ. A study indicated that the constant distraction of emails and phone calls reduced performance in an IQ test by an average of 10 points. To put this into perspective, this reduction in mental capacity is equivalent to missing a night's sleep.
Social media has mastered the art of packaging stimuli in a way that our brains can't refuse. It's financially advantageous for them to hold our attention for as long and as frequently as they can. And in order to accomplish this, they incorporate elements into their apps that alter our brain's chemistry. They adopt strategies from slot machines, which are renowned as some of the most addictive devices ever created.
The constant bombardment of distractions has derailed our ability to focus and concentrate. Employee engagement and productivity have been reduced by continuous distractions, primarily due to the digital age. The problem is that we have been conditioned to work reactively - responding to what comes next instead of focusing on the task at hand. This reactive behaviour leaves us feeling disengaged and unproductive. We must review our working practices and environments closely to keep our employees engaged and productive.
At Colourfield, we have helped businesses of all sizes meet operational targets by removing barriers to performance and productivity. In many ways, our successes can be attributed to cultivating inclusivity and empowering individuals.