How a Lack of Privacy Tanks Employee Productivity

Think of the last time you were on a roll at work. What knocked you out of your groove? Whether it was the constant ping of a group chat or the office gossip whispering juicy rumours around the water cooler, even the tiniest distraction can derail your workflow entirely.

Atlassian, the company that creates productivity and project management tools like Trello and Jira, conducted a study that found the average employee takes 16 minutes to refocus on a work task after a minor distraction like an incoming email. Think about how that refocusing time can grow exponentially throughout the day with every unexpected thing. The costs of lost labour could be disastrous for your bottom line.

In this blog post, we’ll explore how certain limitations to workplace privacy can lead to distractions that lower employee productivity.

Woman using headphones for acoustic privacy in her office

Types of privacy in the workplace

If we’re going to discuss how privacy and productivity relate to one another, we need to discuss some of the different privacy types.

The main types of privacy you can accommodate for in a workplace include:

  • physical privacy,
  • acoustic privacy,
  • and digital privacy.

Each item listed above affects employee productivity differently and requires unique solutions to alleviate any negative impacts on worker output, which we’ll address in the following sections.


Physical privacy limits visual interruptions

Physical privacy is important to workers because it helps with autonomy—no one likes feeling like the boss is watching their every move. It also helps with productivity by limiting visual or physical interruptions.

Data collected by Entrepreneur found that “shoulder tapping” was one of the most disruptive physical distractions for employees. Like most distractions in the workplace, virtually anything impromptu will knock anybody out of their workflow, and it’s much tougher to ignore a human in your physical presence than a cellphone ringing up a storm.

Two men working in private cubicles

How can you minimize visual or physical disruptions in the workplace?

The best way to address a physical disruption like shoulder tapping is to re-evaluate some aspects of your work culture. Many companies find success in outlining office etiquette that limits workstation drop-ins.

For example, you could set the expectation that drop-ins are a no-no and employees should reach out to each other over an instant messaging platform (like Slack) before heading over to someone else’s workstation. A digital shoulder tap increases physical privacy and lets employees have more control over their time because they can always mute chat notifications or set up automatic replies.

Alternatively, a tried-and-true visual cue like a closed door can also clearly signal “do not disturb” to discourage drop-ins. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking of getting new cubicles in your office because cubicle doors are growing more common these days.


Acoustic privacy reduces noise disruptions

There are many possible distractions in the workplace—from loud coworkers, impromptu meetings, strange lunchroom smells, and beyond. However, nothing disrupts a productive work environment more than noise. In fact, a 2019 survey from The Remark Group found that 65% of office workers reported noise as the biggest culprit for derailing their focus and productivity at work.

How can you minimize noise disruptions in the workplace?

You can employ a few tactics to limit the impact of noise on your employees’ productivity.

Move meetings to dedicated spaces away from workstations. Having a meeting (whether it’s formal or not) near people’s workstations is disruptive. By moving meetings behind doors (in conference rooms or closed breakout spaces), you can keep your loud exchanges of ideas from distracting workers elsewhere.

Meeting rooms built with demountable glass walls

Encourage the use of noise-cancelling headphones. Some office spaces can only do so much to limit noise from talking. For example, if your business is in a creative industry (such as an architectural design firm), your office likely has an open concept layout to encourage collaboration.

In an open space where designated break out rooms aren’t abundant, noise-cancelling headphones are the best tool for combatting noise. They also act as a great visual signal to others that you’re in the zone and don’t want to be disturbed.

Reconsider your office layout. If noise is a significant problem for your employees, and you’ve got the budget for it, you might want to consider changing your office design to curtail noise. There are various acoustic glass panels you can use to control how much noise travels between offices or meeting rooms. Alternatively, there are plenty of unique cubicle desking systems you can configure to limit disruptive interactions between workers, and you can even design some with fabric wrapped acoustic panels to help with soundproofing.


Establish digital privacy with the golden hour concept

Digital privacy refers to limitations to interruptions while employees are at their desks. Texting, emails, chat notifications, and video meetings are the worst culprits in this scenario.

Although preventing all digital distractions for an entire workday is impossible (especially when most business correspondence takes place digitally), many businesses have found success with a “radical” concept known as the golden hour. The basic principle is companies create a focused working environment with zero distractions for one single hour per day.

Productive employees in the office

Management asks employees to block all digital notifications, including apps, chats, emails, text messages, and so on. They also discourage meetings, phone calls, and outside visitor access for the allotted time to create a genuinely distraction-free 60 minutes.

Following successful implementations of mandated productivity golden hours, employees should begin to feel more productive because the uninterrupted time lets them focus on core projects without any administrative distraction.

Again, it’s impossible (and ultimately counterproductive) to manufacture complete digital privacy for employees in the modern office. However, by intentionally blocking out daily interruption-free hours, companies can strike a balance that allows workers to be as productive as possible in a digital space.


Promote privacy for the sake of focus

The key to productivity is focus, and with the state of the modern office environment, focus is becoming harder and harder. As your office’s leader, you’re in the best position to implement the tactics that will solve these problems for your employees.

Your employees will thank you for the stress reduction, and they’ll be more able to get the results you need for your business to succeed.

With a little additional reading, you can learn what other changes you can make in your office to increase privacy and boost productivity.

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