Barbara Larson on how to manage remote teams and stay productive from anywhere
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You lose more than 66 percent of your productivity through accidental noise in the office. That corresponds to more than half your day, in which you were meant to be working, disappearing into thin air. It does not have to be that way. Small changes in the office have major impact on your productivity, sanity, and your bottom line.
I recently learned a new word: schizophonia. Never heard of it? Well, neither had I. But let me explain: according to Julian Treasure, who works with how sounds affects us, schizophonia is a state of confusion experienced when what you hear and see does not match for a longer period of time – say, a full workday. It is an interesting concept, because about 70 percent of all office workers work in open plan offices, and many of those use earbuds with music to cancel out the noise of chattering colleagues.
This in itself, however, is not a viable solution. While shutting out sounds with music may help, we tend to play the “wrong” kind of music in the attempt to block out our peers. I am not one to judge what kind of music you or your employees should listen to, but whether it is Pavarotti or P. Diddy, it is a known fact that music with lyrics reduces productivity even further.
Julian Treasure touches upon this in one of his highly recommendable TED talks, stating that we can only follow 1.6 conversations at the same time. When you are typing, it adds up to one conversation in your head and 0.6 of the song lyrics in your earbuds. Or, which is more often the case, the other way around. So, essentially, if you are writing and listening to music at the same time, you only hear 0.6 of your own voice. That does not sound very productive, does it?
Yet, open offices are not going away, even though they reduce productivity by 66 percent – almost two-thirds of productivity – compared to a silent environment. Listening to music through earbuds simply places a layer of noise over an already noisy environment – and you cannot get rid of your carrot-crunching, next-desk neighbor, because she is also your greatest resource in accounting.
So, what can we do about it? First of all, if you have a problem with noise in your office, you absolutely have to speak up. The noise is bad for your health, sanity, and business. Chances are, if the noise is bothering you, then you are probably not alone. Allow me to suggest a few changes to the environment, technology, and behavior in the office which, with varying degrees of difficulty and expense, may decrease noise and thus improve the working environment.
I am going to put up my own fight against schizophonia by changing my lyrics-filled music to the natural sounds that Julian Treasure recommends – just to see if the sounds of waves or birds will speed up my own productivity.