Finding the Right Balance: How Members of Each Working Generation Cope With Open Office Work Environments

Finding the Right Balance: How Members of Each Working Generation Cope With Open Office Work Environments

A global study conducted by Savanta highlights how each of the four generations in the workforce thinks about their workplace environment, how they function in open office environments, and how they handle office distractions. Out of the 5,150 participants surveyed, here is what they found.

Workplace Distractions

One of the biggest obstacles to productivity in open office environments is the number of distractions that arise. It is found that nearly all (99 percent) of employees report they feel distracted when working in their personal workspace. With one of the largest distractions being noisy coworkers-particularly loud talkers. 76 percent of all employees surveyed report their biggest distraction in the workplace is a coworker talking loudly on the phone, and 65 percent say the noise comes from a coworker talking loudly nearby. 93 percent of those surveyed say these distractions are frustrating, especially during phone or video calls.

Generational Preference

Generation Z and Millenials prefer open office environments, which is likely due to their desire to collaborate, more so than other generations. Gen Z and Millennials also say they find themselves to be more productive in noisy office environments. 55 percent of Gen Z and 56 of Millenials prefer open office spaces. More than half of Gen Z (52 percent) say they are most productive working in an environment around noise, and where they are able to talk with others.

Generation X and Baby Boomers, on the other hand, prefer a quiet working environment. Only 47 percent of Gen X surveyed, and 38 percent of Baby Boomers said they would prefer to work in an open office floor plan. 60 percent of Baby Boomers say they are most productive when their work environment is quiet.

Gen Z is shown to have a very different working style than older generations. Gen Z is the fastest growing generation in the workforce, so it is beneficial for companies to consider the most effective office environment across all four working generations. Jeanne Meister, the founding partner of Future Workplace, finds that “We now have four generations working under one roof, which forces companies to reconsider traditional definitions of what makes a productive office environment and how they employees can best collaborate with each other.”

Dealing With Distractions

Research finds that younger generations are much better at dealing with distractions in the workplace. 35 percent of Gen Z say they use headphones to deal with a distraction, while only 16 percent of Baby Boomers say they do the same. Gen Z and Millennials also report when distracted, they will relocate to a quieter, more comfortable space such as couches or cushioned chairs (4/10). On the other hand, more than half of Baby Boomers report they only work at their primary workspaces, even during times of distraction. Research finds that three times as many Baby Boomers than Gen Z admit to not being able to find a solution to their open office distractions.

Finding a Solution to Open Office Distractions

The survey results show nearly three in four people would be able to work more productively in an open office environment if employers could do more to reduce workplace distractions. The most frustrating distraction of all seems to be distractions during phone or video calls.

According to ABC Life, here are some great ways to combat the most common open office distractions:

Use headphones: Firstly, one of the best ways to stay focused at your workspace in a noisy environment is to use headphones. Younger generations have already found that this not only reduces noise but reduces the number of people who may distract you. Users of this method say there is a “code” with headphones where others generally know not to distract you unless it's something that demands your immediate attention.

Take a break: Another great thing to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed or distracted is to take a break from your desk or take a walk. If the office space gets to be too noisy, many found that is helpful to leave your desk for a bit and take a breather. By the time you come back to your desk, the noise level will generally be quieter and less distracting.

If your office has breakout spaces or rooms available to book, these are also a great option, especially if you know you have a project coming up that you will need a quieter space in order to complete it.

Divide up your tasks: Another great strategy to navigating distracting environments is to divide up your tasks based on which ones require more focus. For example, it's much easier to send emails in noisy environments, rather than focus on reading or writing. Any cognitively demanding task should be scheduled for a day you know you are able to leave your primary workspace for a while and get things done.

Be courteous: Lastly, it’s important for all employees to be conscious of how their behavior affects others in open office environments. If you can, take personal phone calls away from your desk to avoid distracting others. Similarly, if you are having a one on one conversation, try a conference or break room. Being courteous of your coworkers will reduce irritation and allow everyone to work more productively.

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