Headphones in the office - are your employees disengaged?

10 May 2019  |  People  |  Productivity  |  Design  |  Trends

People sitting at their desks wearing headphones are a common sight in many of today’s offices. What does this mean?


It’s possible that listening to their favourite music helps them to work more effectively. But they are more likely to be sending a silent message to the office at large: keep quiet. Go away. I’m trying to concentrate.


The trend for open-plan environments has many advantages, from flexibility and ease of communication to fostering a sense of team spirit. But there are also drawbacks, chief among which are lack of privacy, noise and potential for distraction.


A busy office with the buzz of conversation and people criss-crossing the space might present a pleasing picture of harmonious activity. But it can also be highly distracting for employees who want peace and privacy to work.


Research suggests that once someone’s concentration has been broken, it can take up to 20 minutes to recover the lost focus.


If it happens throughout the day, that’s a lot of wasted time.


There are plenty of ways to resolve issues such as sound waves bouncing around open spaces. Careful selection of materials, placement of furniture and use of acoustic screens and panels can help suppress echo and reverberation. That’s just common-sense design.


More complex is the issue of privacy in an office where one is visible and ‘on show’ all the time, and where the preponderance of glass partitions and clear-walled meeting rooms can feel like sitting in a fishbowl. Even when conversations cannot be overheard, body language can be a giveaway that people might prefer to remain unseen.


There are many reasons why people might seek to temporarily withdraw from mainstream office life. Those with introvert personalities tend to work best in a calm, quiet environment. Some might require privacy for a phone conversation, Skype call or one-to-one meeting. HR or finance staff might require discretion for sensitive discussions. Yet amid the rush to promote connection, collaboration and communication, privacy is a factor easily overlooked.


Deloitte’s award-winning London HQ at 1 New Street Square is a model of human-centric design and agile working which addressed these needs from the start. The design was centred on people and what they required in order to perform at their best. Different work settings cater for different tasks, functions and moods, while calm, relaxing spaces help people to destress.


Privacy is built seamlessly into the design, with solutions following identified needs. Acoustic pods allow people to literally enter the zone, physically and mentally. Desks and screens are orientated so that screens are not overlooked. The issue of glass and visual privacy has been carefully considered.


The workplace is the epitome of human-centric design – an environment where people are able to control their space, whether they wish to share it with colleagues and team members, or enter their own quiet place. And it was achieved because everyone involved took the time to analyse people’s real-world needs and concerns and collaborated to find solutions that worked.


Once people start putting on headphones – it’s already too late.

Share this post Back to content

Our latest content in People