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What happened when we tried to beat open-office distractions

Getting some deep, focused work done in an open office can seem downright impossible. Inc and Fast Company editorial assistant Talib Visram took on the challenge anyway.

What happened when we tried to beat open-office distractions
[Photo: Irvan Smith/Unsplash]
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It’s hard to focus in an open office. There’s the constant interruption, which forces you to task-switch and increases your chances of making errors. Then there are the noises and distractions around you. At any given time, you can be surrounded by multiple conversations, while the person to your right talks loudly to themselves and the person to your left chews (a very smelly) lunch.

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Then there’s also the increase in email and instant message usage. As Fast Company tech staff editor Katharine Schwab previously reported, it’s a myth that open offices increase collaboration in a way “that will lead to the next brilliant idea.” In fact, a 2018 Harvard Business School study showed that open offices decrease the chances of face-to-face interactions by 73%, because workers are unwilling to disturb their colleagues. As a result, email and instant messaging increased by 67%.

In Season 1 of Secrets Of The Most Productive People podcast, we examined why people found it so difficult to focus in an open office. In this week’s episode of Season 4, Fast Company and Inc. editorial assistant Talib Visram tries out three different methods to combat open office distractions. He spoke with assistant editor Pavithra Mohan on what he learned from the experiment, what he would do differently, and how effective those methods really were at helping him focus.

You can listen and subscribe to Secrets of the Most Productive People on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherSpotifyRadioPublic, or wherever you get your podcasts.

About the author

Anisa is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of work and life, personal development, money, and entrepreneurship. Previously, she was the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section and the co-host of Secrets Of The Most Productive people podcast.

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