Distractions, part 3 or “Knock Twice and Barge In!”
Lisa Bottom in Distractions, Focus Work, Focus on Focus, San Francisco, Workplace Design

I apologize for the long gap between my blogs on this subject…frankly, I have been distracted working on projects about distraction in the workplace! My fascination (some might call it an obsession) with workplace distractions is the result of surprising observations stemming from a study Gensler conducted several years ago, looking at the work processes of two different organizations. One was a law firm, the other a bio-tech company. We wanted to know where employees did their focused concentration work. Each organization was full of knowledge workers, and the work setting provided for their focus work was individual offices with fully closing, wooden doors.

Makes sense, right? If you need to do heads-down work, then you should have an office of your own, with a door that you can close. Wrong! Reports from the law firm indicated that people could not do their heads-down work in their office, and instead went to the library space on another floor, or off site. Same for the bio-tech scientists, they left their offices to do their focus work on the bus or the train ride home.

Needless to say, we were surprised that workers were escaping the privacy of their closed offices for what would seem to be distracting public spaces in order to do heads-down work. In every case employees cited the same issue: An organizational culture of interruption. One lawyer called it the rule of “knock twice and barge in.”

Our study showed that walls and doors were no longer a barrier in a world where the team had become more important than the individual. If someone was in the office, they were to be available at all times to the team even though the individual was still tasked with being a brilliant contributor to the team. With constant interruption—even when the door to the office was closed (and honestly, can there be any clearer “do not disturb” sign than a closed door?)—people had to flee their personal setting to complete heads down work.

I would love to know if any of you out there have thoughts on this subject. What type of barriers communicate ‘do not disturb’ in your office, and how do you let colleagues know to come back later? Where do you get your focused work done? Do you think we have a culture of interruption in the workplace today? If so, what have you observed?

So…don’t be shy with your feedback! In the following weeks I will be blogging more about this and look forward to incorporating comments.

Erik Lucken
Lisa Bottom is a Principal in Gensler’s San Francisco office focused on work with law firms and professional practice organizations, as well as participation in the Product Design practice. Her passion is developing a culture of excellence in client service. Contact her at lisa_bottom@gensler.com.
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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