There’s no such thing as the perfect office setup. Whether you work in a cubicle, a private office, an open office or a coworking space, chances are you’ll find something to complain about. For a long time, people fought against the cubicle design, arguing that it hindered productivity, discouraged communication and created feelings of claustrophobia and isolation.
But cubicle farms are no longer the norm. Instead, the open office has taken center stage over the past years, but this layout also has drawbacks. The argument is that the open office exposes you to germs, noise pollution and interruptions, draining your energy and increasing anxiety. For some, the time they spend struggling to find quiet and focus in an open office is longer than the time they spend doing actual tasks, resulting in a decreased level of productivity.
We wanted to find out about the most important workplace-related complaints for employees, regardless of the type of office they occupy, based on a recent survey we conducted on office amenities. Our 2,107 respondents said they worked in private offices, home offices, open/creative offices, cubicles and coworking spaces. But what we thought might be even more interesting was to see which are the 10 most distracting or annoying things for millennials in the workplace, since their generation tends to place more importance on the look and feel of their work environment, and often cite it as a deciding factor when looking for a job. We asked respondents what had the greatest negative impact on their productivity. Check out the 10 most annoying things about working in an office (according to millennials):
1. Being constantly interrupted by coworkers
Roughly 64% of Millennial respondents said that the most annoying thing in the workplace is being interrupted by coworkers. It’s hard enough to focus on your work in a cubicle or an open-style office, where there is constant movement and noise. People interrupting you and breaking that focus only works to harm your productivity, since it’ll be harder to go back and re-focus on what you were doing before the interruption. Constant interruptions only serve to lengthen the time it takes you to complete a task, leading not only to decreased productivity, but to frustration and stress.
The second most annoying thing at the office is partially the result of the interruptions we described above. More than 60% of respondents said noise has a negative impact on productivity. In the open office, the sounds of activity are everywhere: the tap-tap-tap of the keyboard, phone alerts, casual chatting as well as serious conversations, the squeaky wheel of a delivery cart, and especially the annoying laugh of that guy or gal. You know the one.
All of this creates a level of noise that is very distracting when trying to focus. Sometimes not even the best noise-cancelling headphones can drown out the cacophony. And if you’re stressed about finishing your project, the office will seem even louder, and you’ll get the feeling that everyone is trying to sabotage you, although that’s probably not the case…probably.
3. Lack of privacy
Another pitfall of working in a shared office is the feeling of being constantly watched, which places unnecessary stress on employees and distracts them from their tasks. This feeling is usually more prevalent in open and/or creative offices, as well as coworking spaces, where there are no doors, walls, or anything else to separate employees from one another. Even though it’s likely that nobody really spends their days watching your every move, you still can’t help feeling exposed, which inhibits your behavior and leaves you focusing more on the way you present yourself, and less on the work you’re doing.
4. Everyone being able to hear every conversation
Unless you work at home or in a private office, having a natural conversation at the office can be quite difficult. Being aware that everyone around you can hear what you’re saying makes you weigh your words a lot more carefully and can often stop you from truly speaking your mind. That’s why, although the modern office can encourage communication and impromptu exchanges of ideas, it can also inhibit these. A lot of this may boil down to one’s personality: some people are comfortable being open and honest with everyone, while others are more introverted, more aware of their surroundings and are more fearful of being judged by others.
5. Everyone being able to see into your monitor
Depending on the type of layout you work in, people might not be able to just hear your every conversation, but also read it. In the age of transparency and openness, your work is no longer just your own, it’s out there on big computer monitors for everyone around you to see. I mean, you don’t have anything to hide, right? Just knowing that people can see what you’re up to on your computer can be inhibiting, giving you this eerie feeling that you’re breaking some kind of rule, even if what you’re doing is work-related and not binge-watching Netflix.
6. No natural light
The absence of natural light is one of the most difficult issues to resolve in the workplace. Depending on the location and size of your office, you might be able to get a few hours of natural light. However, if you operate in an open or creative office with a lot of other employees, not everyone will be able to sit nearby a window or have access to sunlight. Just as people used to fight for a much sought-after corner office, employees now yearn for a window seat, to avoid those blinding fluorescent lights. Besides natural lighting acting like a productivity boost, having access to a window also helps your vision, as you can rest your eyes from all that computer work and stare into the distance for a couple of minutes, feeling grateful for your precious window seat.
7. Poor air quality and thermostat wars
The problem with a crowded office space is that some like it hot, while others enjoy a more chilly atmosphere; some want as much light as possible, while others thrive in the darkness. The more employees you have working in the same space, the more obvious the differences will become. Even if you follow the expert advice by setting all of the thermostats to the ideal productivity-boosting temp, you’ll never be able to please everyone. The result are thermostat wars: you’ll either see either people shivering in their blankets over a cup of hot tea or in short sleeves gulping an icy supersized drink in front of a USB fan.
8. Outdated furniture and equipment
While factors such as noise, lack of privacy or lighting conditions can obviously have a tremendous impact on productivity and wellbeing, the design and feel of the physical space can also be an issue. Roughly 34% of respondents said they had an issue with outdated furniture and equipment at their current jobs. These days, there is a lot of importance placed on design, with Millennials in particular wanting to work in a modern office space surrounded by cool tech and gadgets. Besides the obvious benefits of working in a modern office, with access to the latest technologies, having the newest toys to play with at work is also something you can brag about later to your friends.
9. Having to talk to people when you don’t feel like it
Everyone has good days, not-so-good days and sometimes downright bad days, and our mood often dictates the way we interact with others and how we perceive our environment. When you’re having one of those bad days and you don’t really feel like talking to anybody, the type of office you work in can sometimes make it worse and leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. Even if you have your own private office, something always comes up and you’ll find people knocking at your door multiple times a day. If you work in an open office, surrounded by coworkers, sometimes you wish you could become invisible in order to avoid being dragged into conversations against your will. This is one of the reasons why a lot of companies set up quiet rooms where employees can go and focus on their work without distractions or interruptions.
10. Having no control over your environment
If there’s one thing everyone secretly craves, it’s control. Being able to control different factors in your environment can make you feel powerful and in charge, which in turn can boost your overall confidence and actually improve productivity. Control is one of the reasons so many people would enjoy working in a private office. You can control the temperature, the lighting, the desk setup, you can close your door when you want privacy and you can leave it open to encourage communication with others. In an open or semi-open office, control is shared, regardless of individual preferences, and that can lead to arguments or resentment among employees sharing the same space.
It seems that being constantly interrupted by other people when you’re trying to work is the number 1 productivity killer among our respondents. However, that’s a difficult issue to resolve, since in open-style offices, there are no doors, no walls, no boundaries and no way of distancing yourself from your coworkers. Contrary to what you might expect, having your headphones on doesn’t always signal your busyness to other people. Since everyone’s space is shared, people think it’s OK to impose on their coworkers’ time. Constant interruptions when you’re trying to focus on a time-sensitive project just add to the stress. However, there are some ways out of this bind. Electing to work in a quiet zone is high on the list of possible solutions, and if your office doesn’t yet have one of these, maybe now is the time to create one. Check out our selection of tips and tricks on how to improve productivity in the open office.
We conducted a nationwide survey of 2,107 respondents, asking them about their current office environment, their ideal office space, and how the physical work environment and interaction with coworkers affect their productivity. The people who answered our survey are U.S.-based full-time employees of all ages, working in a variety of industries, including software, education, healthcare, finance and insurance, government, arts and entertainment, construction and manufacturing.