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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Removing Distractions by Design

Today’s world is full of distractions and noise that can inhibit one’s ability to focus and apply serious attention to the most challenging issues. Take for example the proliferation of social media or how the media relegates important topics to one-minute sound bites. Couple this with the barrage of ads that inundate you from all angles and it’s no wonder that most of us lack the ability to put deep thought into our work and daily lives.

Religious people often engage in something called fasting – a deliberate act of removing one-self from those things that poison the mind. Fasting is not about starving yourself, but more about how you purify yourself from all those things that prevent you for realizing your true potential. Therein lies a lesson for all of us when it comes to things like innovation and creative thinking. It is important to take a walk, get away from the office, and clear the mind for improved focus. Embedding a wide range of fasting type activities can lead to higher levels of productivity.

One way of attacking this issue is to put great design into the work environment whereby you minimize distractions and noise. Think about how great design can improve productivity – just look at the Google search page. It’s very clean, simple and fast – you are not bombarded by pop-up ads and numerous distractions from the single task at hand. Great design is about putting the few things in front of you at that particular moment so you can maximize your productivity. This concept can be incredibly liberating and it should become a major focus of how you design your work environment.  

“Lack of private space in the office interiors is constraining the creativity and productivity of workers, according to data from two UK workplace surveys. At the same time, the What Workers Want survey reported that less than two-thirds of employees were satisfied with the amount of quiet space for focused work.” – Open Plan Office Design is Preventing Workers from Concentrating, Dezeen Magazine, July 21, 2016

Great design requires attention to a wide range of issues – making sure office furniture is highly adjustable for people, giving people views of nature to recharge the mind, higher ceilings for a greater sense of freedom or glass walls in busy areas to encourage collaboration. The standard run of the mill office is woefully out of date when it comes to innovative type thinking. The over-riding goal here is to give the person the best possible experience so they can contribute at the highest level.  For example, it is important to have small private rooms for one-on-one conversations; but it’s also important to have design that facilitates capturing chance moments.

“There’s a huge movement to design for human potential . . for intellectual and emotional intelligence. We see staircases are now designed to be in the center of offices and not in the back exits.” – Kay Sargent, Director of Workplace Strategies, Lend Lease

Most studies seem to confirm a very simple fact: Physical environments are the most important factor behind an employee’s ability to focus. And unfortunately, many companies do not consider workplace design to be an important investment. As a minimum, there are certain basic factors that you should not compromise on such as: Lighting, Temperature, and Air Quality. If you can get past the basics, then you should look at providing a range of environments around attributes such as:

Location – From access for everyone to access for a very few number of people
Enclosure – The degree to which you restrict exposure through walls, doors and ceilings
Exposure – The degree to which you restrict noise and visual intrusion

Design is not getting the attention it deserves when it comes to work flow, processes, and employee productivity. The best companies, such as Google, are all about design from the products and services they provide to the environment they create for their workforce. Just like every company is a technology company, every company should be a design company.

“The data from our survey this year suggest that the more importance an organization places on design thinking and the more ready it is to embrace it, the faster the organization grows. Companies growing by 10 percent or more per year are more than twice as likely to report they are ready to incorporate design thinking, compared to their counterparts that are experiencing stagnant levels of growth.” – Deloitte University Press

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