Office rules rule – an easy way to enhance productivity and job satisfaction

Every employee wants to work in an environment where they can focus on their work, be successful in their job and get things done. Everyone also wants to give their colleagues the opportunity to achieve the same.

When the phone rings – or one has to make a phone call – these two goals clash.

Talking on the phone may be a necessary task for one person, but it can disrupt that person’s colleagues. The more open the work environment is, the greater the risk of disrupting other people’s concentration. The level of disruption also multiplies the louder the person is speaking.

It is important to have shared rules about how routine tasks are performed in order to maintain a comfortable atmosphere. Employees should agree on issues such as whether phone calls are made at the workstation or whether people should go to a phone booth, meeting room or the lounge.

Interruptions can reduce productivity by up to a month per year – per employee!

If an employee loses focus for any reason, it takes about 15-20 minutes for them to refocus on the task to the same level as before the disruption. And telephone conversations are not the only potential disruptions: the hum of a printer, a noisy air conditioning system, strong smells and colleagues moving on the fringes of one’s field of vision can also be disruptive. People react to disruption in different ways, as different people experience the same environment differently.

But the truth is that if people are unable to focus on tasks and their thoughts wander, this has a direct impact on how efficient they are and, consequently, on their productivity.

Disruptions and recovering from them takes an average of 36 minutes per day, per employee, in lost or inefficient working time. This is equivalent to 3 hours per week or 12 hours per month.

Nearly a month per year. Per employee.

Sort out your work environment

A key prerequisite for a work environment to be functional is to design the space to meet the employees’ particular requirements and job descriptions. The acoustics are one of the most important factors and so is the layout of workstations, minimising the number of distracting visual elements and commonly shared practices.

It is also important to recognise that open-plan work environments are not suitable for all tasks, such as specialist tasks requiring deep concentration or tasks that involve handling private and confidential information, which highlights the significance of agreeing upon and following shared procedures.

Simple rules that everyone can follow

The best rules are simple; they are logical and easy to comply with. They are easier to learn than the offside rules in most team sports or driving round a multi-lane roundabout.

The more complicated the rules are, the more likely it is that people will start to break them with the excuse of being too busy.

Fortunately, it is easy to keep office rules simple with a template such as this:

  • no talking to colleagues over your screens: if you need to talk to a colleague, walk to their desk – and for any conversation longer than a few words, go to a quiet pod;
  • phones (and other devices) are to be silenced, and when you leave your desk, take your phone with you so that it will not vibrate on your desk and annoy the people who sit near you;
  • telephone calls are to be handled in a phone booth whenever possible;
  • phone booths and pods cannot be booked. This ensures that they are always available (there must be a sufficient number of facilities).

If the office does not have any designated quiet zones, employees can agree on specific times of the day during which the office is kept silent, allowing everyone to focus on their jobs without worrying about being disrupted.

Phone booths and pods allow employees to work in peace

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