The modern open office was designed for team building and camaraderie but is mostly distinguished by its high noise levels, lack of privacy and surfeit of both digital and human distractions, according to an article in TIME magazine. And indeed, several decades of research have confirmed that open-plan offices are generally associated with greater employee stress, poorer co-worker relations and reduced satisfaction with the physical environment. But there are some ways to combat those detrimental effects and still be productive.

The noise of the open office is one of employees’ chief complaints about it, and research shows that the ceaseless hubbub can actually undermine motivation. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, 40 female clerical workers were subjected to three hours of “low-intensity noise” designed to simulate the sounds heard in a typical open office. A control group experienced three hours of quiet. Afterward, both groups were given puzzles to solve; unbeknownst to them, the puzzles had no solution. The participants who’d been treated to a quiet work setting kept plugging away at the puzzles, while the subjects who’d endured the noisy conditions gave up after fewer attempts.

Look around any open-plan office today (especially one full of younger employees) and you’ll see that many workers deal with this problem by wearing ear buds or headphones. Although it might seem that importing one’s own noise wouldn’t be much of a solution — and although we don’t yet have research evidence on the use of private music in the office — experts say that this approach could be effective on at least one dimension. Part of the reason office noise reduces motivation is that it’s a factor out of employees’ control, so the act of asserting control over the aural environment may lead employees to try harder at their jobs.

Source: TIME magazine