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Paul Clark, SVP & Managing Director for EMEA at Poly discusses how small businesses can avoid office distractions with technology.

The attractions of the open office are well known — opportunities for spontaneous collaboration, improved performance, and greater camaraderie. In comparison to the bright, energetic and spacious open office, the cliché of the “cubicle farm” is dreary and restrictive.

Open office spaces are also cost effective, which makes them particularly attractive to SMEs. When you can save between three to five times the floor space for the same workforce in an open office, it’s no surprise that the layout appeals to SME management.

Unfortunately, monetary savings can come at a cost to another critical aspect of business: productivity. Workers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the functional problems that are inherent in open offices. You’re much more likely to see them battling the myriad of distractions that surround them than to see their performance and mood lifted by the buzz of activity they are enveloped in.

Our own research shows open office distractions are a major issue for more than half of office workers. The majority genuinely prefer an open floor plan office – particularly younger generations – but a third of workers are always or often very distracted.

And the main culprit for distractions in an office packed full of people is, naturally, co-workers. From booming voices on a video call to obsessive pen clickers, employees in the open office are exposed to every conversation, meeting and habit of every colleague.

The energy and productivity that open offices are designed to encourage can therefore also be a drawback. There are genuine benefits to the open office format, but SMEs must address the distractions that are holding back these spaces from being the productivity hubs that they need.

Closing the Door on Open Office Distraction 

People are the problem in the open office, but they’re also the solution. If an SME can provide its employees with tools that give them control over how they mitigate or eliminate distractions in the open office, then productivity is enabled for the people who need it most.

The specific tools and solutions tend to vary, depending on the tasks that the workforce is expected to carry out. While the open office provides a big space, there are many different ways that it will be used.

Do employees need areas for quiet work or concentration, collaborative discussion or meetings, or external communication? Is there a hotdesking approach for mobile-first workers?

The key to addressing open office distractions is to understand how the space needs to work in multiple ways, to meet the varying needs of the workforce. Identify the most critical use cases – and the obstacles to working most effectively – and build the optimal solutions around these requirements.

Getting Tech-nical

The open office is rarely a single room, and businesses are seeing the benefits of designating smaller areas for specific purposes. Deploying technology effectively and appropriately is key to optimising these zones.

For example, SMEs are carving out small meeting spaces designed to boost productivity – huddle rooms – as a means of sparking quick collaboration through the use of audio and visual solutions. In theory this is the right move, but only 2% of these spaces currently include equipment for video conferencing. The result is a frustrating experience as a team crowds around a laptop, struggling to be seen and heard.

For the most effective collaborative experiences, purpose-built solutions are needed. Fortunately, high-quality video collaboration – without expensive AV installations – is now easier than ever for the SME. You don’t need a formal conference room to take a video call when plug-and-play USB conferencing soundbars can introduce HD audio and video to the huddle room – especially when the solutions can incorporate smart microphones and sensors to eliminate background noise.

For those working at a designated desk or hot desk, Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) is a hallmark of more advanced enterprise headsets that can be a gamechanger in terms of minimising distracting noises in the background. Allowing workers to block out the noise of busy and compact environments can give productivity a huge boost – especially when you can do so without compromising audio quality.

Importantly, these benefits don’t demand the sacrifice of personal technology, which can be a barrier to worker adoption and productivity. Smart phone docking systems are available that can integrate enterprise headsets and unified communications solutions like Microsoft Teams with the user’s smartphone, allowing them to benefit from distraction-free collaboration and interaction without sacrificing their preferred device.

All of these solutions have the employee experience at their core, but are built with the business in mind for maximum effectiveness. With the right backing from IT departments and those looking after HR, operations and facilities, SMEs have a huge opportunity ahead of them to change the open office environment into a setting that really works for their employees.