• It takes an employee 23 minutes to recover from a distraction.
  • 58% of employees in open offices get distracted multiple times a day. 
  • Your chance of getting ill increases by 62% in an open office. 

Open offices — once celebrated for collaboration, cost efficiency, and space optimisation — have recently received a bad reputation for wasting workers' time

A study by the department of informatics at the University of California found that, on average, it takes employees 23 minutes to recover from a distraction and 58% of employees are distracted multiple times every day. 

Meanwhile, air conditioning and the proximity of colleagues increases your chances of getting sick.

A 2011 Danish survey found that the incidence of sick leave increases by 62% among workers who share office space.  

Business Insider spoke to Gerrit Cloete, who works at the Productivity Pit Stop, a consulting agency, for advice on improving open office productivity. 

Initiate "dead hours"

"I worked with several companies where they ban talking, emails, texting and phoning each other during 09:00 - 11:00 every weekday," says Cloete, who counts Santam, Wesbank and Sanlam among his clients. He says 09:00 works best because it's natural to talk to colleagues before the start of their workday. "Most colleagues use the time before 09:00 to organise meetings, reply to work-related inquiries and check on projects."

Communicate priorities and manage expectation

"If you understand and communicate priorities, there is no reason for someone to disturb you," Cloete says. Some companies have daily email chains where employees communicate what times they'd like to focus on certain priorities. "This work particularly well in large open plan offices," Cloete says, "because it ensures colleagues are aware when they can bother each other with questions."

The 'headset' rule 

Implemented in different ways across the globe, the 'headset rule' means that you cannot disturb someone when they are wearing a 'headset' or a specific hat. "South African companies mostly implement a system where as soon as you are wearing earphones you 'off limits'," Cloete says. "This counts even if you are not listening to anything."

Work from home

It is well known that working from home improves productivity and employee health. "If your company isn't dependant on making fast and frequent decisions, working from home means less stress, more comfort and happier employees," Cloete says. "Why would you sit for two hours in traffic when you could've been working?"

Does your company or team have a particularly clever way of dealing with the drawbacks of open plan offices? Let us know on team@businessinsider.co.za.

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