Case Study: The Open-Office Productivity Assassin

case study productivity Jan 20, 2021
case study how to remain productive in an open-office environment

[From the client files...]

Open office environments can be great for creativity and collaboration, but if done wrong, they can also be a total productivity killer. 

Matthew Davis, Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, conducted a comprehensive review of more than a hundred studies on open office environments. His research concluded that employees in open office environments have lower levels of concentration and motivation, along with higher levels of stress, when compared with those in traditional office environments. These insights held true for one of my clients as well.

A client of mine, let’s call her Susan, loved certain aspects of her environment, but she also found herself frustrated by the constant disruptions that prevented her from being as productive as she wanted and needed to be.

She was taking work home every night, which was negatively impacting her family life, and she often felt anxious and overwhelmed. All she wanted was a good night’s rest that didn’t involve falling asleep over an excel spreadsheet.

During one of our calls, we determined that the biggest obstacle in Susan's workplace productivity was the inability to have focused attention devoted to the task at hand.

The open-office environment left her interrupted every 3 - 5 minutes, with additional time spent after each distraction retracing her steps to get back to where she had left off.

She told me she often felt like she was “spinning her wheels and making no progress”. And the lack of productivity was sending her stress levels through the roof, while her job satisfaction was starting to plummet. 

The problem was clear - Susan needed substantially fewer distractions so she could get her work done, but she felt hopeless that this could ever happen in her open-office environment. The good news is, sometimes the solutions are easier than they seem. 

We created an action plan, but first, she had to talk to her boss about the impact the distractions were having on her productivity and share the proposed solutions for resolving the situation.

The solution had two main components:  

1. Formalize a scheduling system.

She set up an account with and started having her management team schedule daily meetings with her so that all their respective needs were addressed during that particular time slot. This eliminated the consistent flow of sporadic interruptions throughout the day. It took a few weeks for the team to get used to her new system, but eventually, they adapted and came to really appreciate the fact that she was more organized, efficient, and productive than ever before.

2. Schedule 4-hours per week to work away from the office. 

She tried working from home and couldn’t stay focused but found that Starbucks provided an environment where she could get into her zone and make quick work of her tasks. Initially, her boss was unsure of this move but agreed to a one-month trial. After seeing how much work she was able to accomplish with this new set-up, he was completely on-board.

While she couldn’t change the open office environment, she was able to create a system that worked with her environment. And I’m happy to say that her system is still in place and working well to this day.

Susan rarely takes work home anymore, no longer falls asleep on her computer, and has a much happier home life as a result. 

Have you had similar frustrations with an open office environment? I'd love to hear the solutions you came up with to overcome those challenges.

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