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The Epidemic of Overwhelm

Collaboration is the latest buzzword in business circles which is why open-plan offices remain a growing trend in office design. Seen particularly in Millennial- dominated companies that favour teamwork and communication, open-plan offices are often a popular and cheaper design option mainly because they can handle rapid change in personal number and create a sense of being busy. 

If you’re expecting 150% year on year growth in headcount, open plan offices give you more of a crumple zone than traditional office layouts where you’re limited by the number of individual research in the space. Whilst many workplaces now make it much easier for people to collaborate and communicate effectively in open plan offices, many leaders remain dissatisfied with the frequency of breakthrough or lack of innovation.

Paradoxically, by trying to encourage more communication and collaboration between colleagues they’re only making the problem worse. Too much interaction and not enough privacy creates a common form of crisis known as ‘the epidemic of overwhelm’; a modern-day disease which is killing people’s creativity, productivity, engagement and wellbeing where office workers are losing 86 minutes per day due to distractions from co-workers.

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Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” says that many employees have no choice but to work in environments that are saturated with stimuli. Being constantly surrounded by people and promoting teamwork above all else creates group thinking where people bow to peer pressure rather than challenge the consensus and innovate. Cain suggests that we need to foster collaboration by “creating settings in which people are free to circulate in a shifting kaleidoscope of interactions and then disappear into private spaces”. This enables people to refocus and recharge.

Spatial perceptions play an important role in productivity and there is a lot we can take from examples found in nature. Significant implications from our evolutionary past remain rooted in our psyche today. We need open spaces and we need to be able to find places to hide. Consider ‘the Savannah’ and the ‘Cave’. Whilst our ancestral watering holes and caves have been replaced, we still have basic and instinctive needs to imitate them within our workspace according to biophilic design expert Oliver Heath.

In an open plan-office we get comfort from being able to see our colleagues, view their activities and hear a small amount of sound, but we don’t want to hear every word.

To counterbalance the noise pollution, Creatif have designed acoustic panels, rafts and baffles to strategically capture travelling sound from all directions.

When we’re in our caves, such as workpods or meeting booths we can face the problem of having too little sound which in itself becomes a distraction. This is why Creatif have devised digital sound masking solutions – the process of adding a low level of unobtrusive background noise that’s engineered to protect confidentiality and increase comfort. Adding sound to a space actually makes the space seem quieter and allows people to be able to focus on the task at hand.

The Adaptif range for example endorses Cain’s notion of shifting kaleidoscope of interactions by providing acoustic, operable moving walls, panels and doors. Whether retractable, folding or static, these dividers allow people to unite or separate themselves from the rest of the group.

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Creatif’s acoustic workpods use absorbent materials that wrap around desks, either containing conversation or blocking it from entering. Semi-rigid acoustic panels cover specific areas so that sound doesn’t drift up and reverberate around the room. Even offices that are limited on space can use the ABC approach by installing acoustic wall and ceiling tiles; laboratory tested, multi-layered, environmentally-friendly fabric that absorbs 95% of sound. These innovative mediums provide immediate solutions to noise pollution.

One of the main concerns regarding open office space for employees is too much noise. Often the constant communication in these environments can have the opposite effect of what was intended. Instead of collaborating on projects, employees huddle with their headphones on in hopes of fighting through the noise to get focused work done. Headphones are one of the clearest ways to say, “Please don’t bother me.”

In an effort to provide employees with the best possible office environment, companies are constantly revamping office layout and making secluded rooms and isolated spaces available to accommodate different work preferences. That is where innovative designs like those from Creatif come into play. They can significantly reduce the epidemic of overwhelm that is often found in open plan environments.

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Get more of an insight in to the types of office space that provide competitive advantage here.

Find out how sound really affects us - read the summary of our latest seminar on “sound... it’s all around you” here.

Written by Creatif