The success of any competitive organisation is dependent on its effectiveness to create, transfer and embed knowledge. This focus on a knowledge currency has fostered the complex knowledge environments that characterise work today: workspaces that are constantly flowing with information. Work is no longer procedural, as we work on many tasks simultaneously within alternative physical and virtual environments, and with diverse people. Working in today’s world of hyper-connectivity means that we are bombarded with information; work is saturated with information as we try to multi-task while encountering constant interruptions and distractions.
But be warned of always being switched-on or constantly exposing your employees to fast-paced work environments. If we do not take the time to quiet our minds, research demonstrates that we can experience overload. This overload is associated with a loss of effectiveness in people, in addition to reduced job satisfaction, strained relationships and increased stress related symptoms.
Modern workspaces are becoming increasingly open and ‘collaborative’. This promotes awareness between employees, cultivates opportunities for interactions and provides a platform for knowledge sharing. Ultimately, we want to encourage collaboration between people: we want teams working together with a common purpose to solve problems, make decisions, create and transfer knowledge, and embed innovation into the behaviours and culture of the organisation. These objectives are the key drivers behind flexible workspaces today. However, organisations need to accommodate all the working needs of their people by providing a balanced choice of spaces; interactive spaces that support collaboration and quiet spaces that support focused concentration. Organisations need to support the privacy needs of their employees by creating spaces with acoustic, visual and psychological comfort. To actively support employee health and wellbeing, organisations need to provide ‘retreat’ spaces to allow employees to relax, reflect and rejuvenate from the busyness of today’s work.
Research demonstrates that differences in perceptions of privacy are driven by diversity. In particular, cognitive skills such as selective attention and stimulus inhibition can influence an employee’s sense of privacy at work. Selective attention in a work situation involves attending to relevant information and inhibiting or suppressing irrelevant information. Effective inhibition allows the individual to avoid simultaneous processing of many competing stimuli and is crucial to the capacity to concentrate in a distracting environment, as it reduces the likelihood of overstimulation or overload occurring.
Some organisations offer training in selective attention to help employees cope better with the distractions of open-plan work environments. Headphones are becoming more popular in workspaces today as they provide individuals with immediate control over their acoustic comfort, while retreat products and spaces – with ‘screened’ boundaries – provide employees with additional environmental choice.
These solutions are provided on the notion that there are individual differences in abilities to cope with and screen out stimuli. For those able to exercise inhibition, they can effectively reduce overstimulation by attending to information on a priority basis, whereas ‘non-screeners’ risk becoming over-aroused. For any organisation, it is important to cater for all types and needs, allowing all minds to be recharge and have some quiet time.
Use of Headphones at Work
A popular trend observed in open work environments is the adoption of user headphones. Employees use headphones to control and create their own acoustic comfort: these devices have become symbols of a user’s need for privacy. Behaviourally, headphones communicate: ‘Do Not Disturb’. But just how beneficial are headphones for work effectiveness? Some argue that people who wear them are not taking advantage of the major benefit of open-plan workspace – the incidental conversations and exchanges of information that assist knowledge transfer. Whether managers encourage or ban headphones, research demonstrates that they contribute to individual feelings of environmental empowerment and therefore have a positive impact on worker morale and psychological comfort. The true impact on attention of listening to your own music at work depends on the tasks being performed and how cognitively demanding they are. Music may have a negative impact on tasks that require intense concentration and memory recall. However, music can reduce background noise and improve mood, especially where users have an emotional response to the music.
Use of Headphones at Work is an excerpt from ‘The Power of Workspace for People and Business’ by Keti Malkoski & Dr Jacqueline C Vischer. Available to purchase at schiavello.com/psychology-book