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Concentration and open plan offices; a challenging combination

Download PDF You are no exception if you sometimes find it difficult to concentrate on your tasks at work. Many of us now work in shared open plan spaces with terrible acoustics and limited privacy. Deep concentration can be almost impossible in this environment.

The flow
When we are engaged in a relatively demanding activity in which an optimal balance between the requirements of the task and individual skill level exists, then flow is possible. Flow is characterized by a subjective experience of effortless involvement in a task, a high level of focused attention and a feeling of control while suspending self-reflective thoughts. Flow is primarily associated with pleasure and the intrinsic motivation to complete a task and enhance existing skills. You could say that the more we are in flow, the happier we feel. It is thus very much in the interests of both employee and employer to increase the chances of achieving this state.

Personality-Based Working
It can take 20 minutes or more to fully concentration, which in turn leads to flow. This is a precious state and can be spoiled instantly by interruptions from loud music, a telephone call or a noisy colleague. "How you react to a high volume of stimuli can depend on your personality" asserts Florijn Vriend (WELL Building Expert for Kernwaarde Groen). She ponders "Is the fact that organisations seldom consider what criteria an environment needs in order to align with different personalities a missed opportunity?". 

Florijn continues "Right now HR looks primarily at skills, competencies, experience, person-job fit, person-organisation fit, but not person-environment fit. The activities that take place in an organisation are considered from a design and facilities perspective, as is how to make the working environment as comfortable as possible but not how personalities are split across the available space.

Wim Pullen, Director of the Center for People and Buildings, has this to say “Personality-Based Working involves having a workspace that suits the personality. If you are an introvert, if you need isolation and quiet, you need a workspace that is not too hectic, with people talking over one another and colleagues busy on the telephone. If you have a strong need for personal structure, it is not bad to subscribe to the office cliché of sitting opposite the same colleague day in and day out, having your coffee break at set times, and eating your sandwiches from the same plastic lunchbox you have used for years."

Personality-based working can be a useful step towards better concentration for the individual and higher productivity. Employees need to be supported as much as possible to achieve a state of deep concentration. Offering separate, flexible spaces that can be used occasionally for specific tasks could be a solution. The use of such spaces is also a clear message to colleagues that you do not want to be spoken to for the time being. It is easier to find peace and quiet in such a space because acoustically, it is isolated from the open plan area.

Is you office environment largely open plan? Do you have a mix of people working in this space who have differing roles and requirements to work effectively? Are spaces such as meeting rooms at a premium, making quiet rooms difficult to find? Then the MindPod might be something you could use at work; click on the link to find out more about our MindPod.

Myrthe van Stralen
Senior Consultant R&D

More about Myrthe van Stralen:
Myrthe van Stralen is a Performance Psychologist at the Office Athletes Group. The science of optimizing goal-pursuit and health behavior is her field of expertise. 

More about Florijn Vriend:
With a background in organisational psychology, Florijn’s area of focus at Kernwaarde Groen is the creation of healthy working environments. This could be in relation to organisational policy, accommodation, the real estate portfolio and associated provision of products and services. Facilitating the end user’s welfare by means of the WELL Building Standard, amongst others, is central.

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