In the hypercompetitive markets of today, no enterprise can afford to waste work capacity the way many businesses are doing now. Nor can organisations risk producing the lower quality of products or service, or levels of errors that distracted workers do. A Steelcase study in the UK showed that Britain’s employee productivity levels were 18 points lower that their European counterparts. 50% of office workers in Britain work in open plan offices compared to 1-5 worldwide – suggesting a strong link between workspaces that facilitate high levels of distraction and significantly lower levels of human effectiveness.


Interruptions aren’t good for employee’s wellbeing either. Modern staffers who are under more pressure to do more work and broader scopes of work faster are increasingly frustrated with the disturbances and distractions that require them to attempt to multitask continuously; frustrations that are showing up in the forms of less cognition, less creativity, energy, poor health and wellbeing, and less commitment to their employers. Gensler reflects that modern work requires employees to focus more by 13 % while global workplace effectiveness has dropped by 6%, mostly thanks to increased distraction and disturbance structurally inbuilt in the workplace. High levels of workplace distraction demands the continuous attention switching (disguised as multitasking’) that fatigues the human mind quickly resulting in reduced quality of thought, higher levels of errors and stress and sleepiness. Gensler’s study of 2000 workers in the USA showed a direct correlation between high disturbance levels and substantially lower levels of collaboration and creativity.



What does colour mean to you?

We think there’s far more to colour than meets the eye – literally. In fact, the eye

doesn’t actually see colour at all, serving only to process light signals to the brain

where the real ‘seeing’ occurs. Because colour is interpreted in the brain, each

brain uses it’s owned learned filters and neurotransmitters to respond to colours

uniquely, impacting each human mood and behaviour quite differently. While

there’s clear evidence that in broad terms, red lifts energy, yellows push up happy,

and greens, blues and whites evoke feelings of calm trust and truth, it’s becoming

clearer that broad societal and cultural meanings are more responsible for how we

feel about colours – and how we respond to them. And these differ from person to

person more than a bit.


Neuroscience is shifting pop colour psychology, hinting at the dangers of over

simplifying human responses to colour and assuming that all see and interpret

colours in the same way. Studies show that formative and other experiences

related to colour, as well as community and cultural differences influence the way

every human perceives colour more profoundly than we’ve held true till now.


Assumptions that everyone sees colour the same way are proving to be simply

wrong. While in some cultures and therefore its people, white denotes hygiene

and honesty, in others it means death and sadness. Reds for some mean fiery

spirit while for others it spells angst, danger, anger and even immorality. Black

can speak of sophistication and elegance but mean dark forces, magic and death

to someone else depending on the ‘eyes’ that feel the colour. New data and

information suggests that the use of colour in the very diverse workplaces of today

is a significantly more complex matter requiring designers to think more deeply

about the application of colour before the liberal splashing of cliché’s on

workplace walls.

Latest insights…

Human distraction, the key to disadvantage?

The average SA employee works for 50% of the time.  Research by leading SA workspace design firm Tower Bridge found that most staff in the SA firm’s surveyed get interrupted or distracted well over 30 – 40 times per day. Most of the interruptions are 3-7 minute ones, taking about the same time to return to the task and refocus. At a conservative average of 10 minutes per disruption, including the average time it takes each employee to return to the task, thirty disruptions steal around half a day of productive time per employee every day. The Tower Bridge findings, while similar in theme, are more conservative than the results produced by Gallup, Gensler and Steelcase studies, suggesting that the negative impact of disturbances might be even bigger. Given that studies on human concentration levels show how fickle the human mind is at best, it’s likely that the already alarming statistics are understated.  


A Gensler USA study revealed that workers report interruptions every 15 minutes. According to global research by Steelcase, the average worker checks their inbox 30 times in an hour and the average UK employee checks their smartphone more than 200 times per day.  A study by the University of California found that workers were distracted from work every 3 minutes.


Disruptions and distractions are a reality of the modern open-plan office and a technology driven ‘always-on’ world. Competition for a concentrated mind in an open environment include a stream of sporadic requests for information or input, on demand reprioritisation of tasks, movement, noise, temperature, light, ventilation, incoming emails, instant message and social media alerts – and even smells.  While some distractions overtly fight for scarce concentration capacity, many more are subliminal, taking additional process power and energy from employee’s brains all the time. Disturbances and distractions aren’t good for shareholders or customers.



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