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Open Offices Disrupt Analytical Thinking and Creativity



(p. A13) Visual noise, the activity or movement around the edges of an employee's field of vision, can erode concentration and disrupt analytical thinking or creativity, research shows. While employers have long tried to quiet disruptive sounds in open workspaces, some are now combating visual noise too.


. . .


"I could barely ever focus," says Ms. Spivak, marketing and communications director for San Francisco-based Segment.

Her company overhauled its layout when it moved to new offices in April. Its former space was like a warehouse, creating "these long lines of sight across the workspace, where you have people you know and recognize moving by and talking to each other. It was incredibly distracting," CEO Peter Reinhardt says.


. . .


(p. A15) Being surrounded by teammates with similar work patterns can be comforting to employees. Unpredictable movements around the edges of a person's field of vision compete for cognitive resources, however, says Sabine Kastner, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Princeton University who has studied how the brain pays attention for 20 years. People differ in their ability to filter out visual stimuli. For some, a teeming or cluttered office can make it nearly impossible to concentrate, she says.


. . .


In an experiment with Chinese factory workers published in 2012, Ethan Bernstein, an assistant professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Harvard Business School, found teams were 10% to 15% more productive when they worked behind a curtain that shielded them from supervisors' view. The employees felt freer to experiment with new ways to solve problems and improve efficiency when protected from their bosses' critical gaze, Dr. Bernstein says.

A loss of visual privacy is the No. 2 complaint from employees in offices with low or no partitions between desks, after noise, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology of 42,764 workers in 303 U.S. office buildings.



For the full commentary, see:

Sue Shellenbarger. "WORK & FAMILY; Why You Can't Concentrate at Work." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 10, 2017): A13 & A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 9, 2017 and has the title "WORK & FAMILY; Why You Can't Concentrate at Work.")


The Bernstein paper, mentioned above, is:

Bernstein, Ethan S. "The Transparency Paradox." Administrative Science Quarterly 57, no. 2 (June 2012): 181-216.






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