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Do open plan offices affect employee work performance?

28 May 2013

Australian workers are avoiding phone calls in favour of emails due to noise levels in the office.

That is according to a global survey by Jabra, which claims nearly 40% of Australian respondents reported sending out emails to avoid phone calls altogether.

When asked to identify the things that irritated employees in the workplace, talking loudly across the office space was found to be the most annoying (44%), followed by interruptions by colleagues (29%) and personal phone calls (27%).

Jabra says the success of unified communications services provided by Cisco, Microsoft and others has led to over 45% of Australian employees working in open or semi-open office environments.

As a result, these work environments encourage staff to communicate and collaborate with their colleagues but unfortunately, this increased chatter has resulted in 40% of employees having to raise their voices to be heard, 28% missing details when on the phone and 21% having longer phone calls.

Soren Schoennemann, managing director, Jabra ANZ said it was promising to see more Australian businesses embracing modern day working environments but he warned that businesses must ensure they have the technology in place that supports this shift away from the traditional work model.

“Working in an open plan office is a great way to enhance team work, creativity and information sharing," he says.

"However organisations need to make sure this increase in interaction does not impact employee productivity.

“It is important to equip workers with the tools they need to work more efficiently in a variety of work environments.

"Technology can now enable employees to continue working without being disturbed by a busy office environment, a noisy printer or coffee machine.

“Improvements in technology should enable businesses to be more agile and we are certain that the benefits of unified communication tools – such as greater collaboration, increased productivity, and more efficient business processes – will become readily apparent as companies move forward using them.

"With technology such as wireless headsets and speakers workers are able to expand their work radius; they can get up and leave their office or desk to get papers at the copier or coffee and still be able to work efficiently from any place."

On the move

The report says that Australian workers have a larger work radius than ever before with over 60% having to move beyond 2.5 metres to perform basic tasks such as reaching documents, collecting paper from the printer or simply going to get advice from a colleague whilst still on the phone.

Workers are also increasingly working from other locations in and outside the office with 45% of respondents working from meeting rooms or quiet rooms, 43% working from home, 29% working on transport (car, bus, train) and 22% working out of their customers’ office.

Yet help can be found as the research found using a headset at work enabled employees to be more productive with 47% reporting fewer missed calls and 55% of respondents being able to perform their tasks better with a headset.

Do open plan offices cause distraction? Tell us your experiences below