How to Achieve Distraction-Free, Solo Work

Last time we talked about “distraction-free solo work” and how that’s what workers want.  It’s a fancy-sounding term, so it might be worth our time to discuss it.  In a 2002 study of 13,000 office workers, the “attribute found to be most effective was the ‘ability to do distraction free solo work’ followed by ‘support for impromptu interactions (both in one’s workspace and elsewhere.)” Employees were trying to tell their management they just wanted a place where they could think and work by themselves, with help or the need to bounce some ideas off of someone else being the exception rather than the rule.

Mardex also quotes some findings by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). ASID did a national survey and discovered that “more than 70 percent of respondents indicated that their productivity would improve if their workspace was less noisy. A similar ASID survey of corporate executives indicated that only 19 percent were conscious of any sort of noise problem.” In other words, the workers say they would just like a quiet place to work, while their management is oblivious to the problem.

Bottom line: Your workers would like a quiet place to work, but still have the occasional freedom to share ideas or provide feedback on on-going work. They also feel that if they are given a quiet place to work, their productivity will go up.

The best way to facilitate distraction-free solo work is sound masking.  The idea is that a sound masking system provides white noise through in-ceiling speakers so that the brain listens to the low-level background noise instead of the office noise around them.  It may seem strange that white noise, ie noise, is better than office noise itself.  It’s important to understand that all noise is not created equally.  Bothersome noise is structured and passes along information, be it conversations or music.  Thus, the brain naturally listens to it, whether intentionally or not.  In contrast, white noise is unstructured and communicates nothing, so the brain naturally tunes it out.  Thus, white noise trumps unwanted noise because it can cover it.

Sound masking is loud enough to drown out conversational distractions, but quiet enough to not be annoying or to impede work-related interaction. So, unlike headphones or strict rules about noise (that are unlikely to be followed), sound masking still allows for discussions and collaboration. And, according to many studies, your workers will thank you for it.