HOLLAND, Mich. - Open-plan offices, the new trend sweeping America's office workspaces, may actually be sabotaging employees' ability to focus at work. 
 
Office furniture manufacturing giant Haworth, number 7 on the FDMC 300, found that open-plan workspaces can leave employees 'paralyzed' by an oversupply of information.
 
"Employers need open and interactive spaces to encourage collaboration, but such spaces can introduce distractions," says Haworth in a white paper, Designing for Focus Work. "Distractions sabotage focus, and focus work is a necessary part of collaborative efforts."
 
Haworth says that on average office workers lose 28 percent of their productive time due to interruptions and distractions while working. As a result, many employees are choosing to either begin their working days earlier or stay at work longer.
 
The way to solve? Approach workplace design so that it encourages both collaboration and focus work, says Haworth.
 
"Offer employees a variety of workspace options, choice over where, how, and when to best work, and control over workspace features and furnishings. Make the workplace legible and clutter-free so employees won’t waste effort navigating the workplace. Lastly, include “recharge” spaces; focus work takes intense effort, and it requires breaks."
 
Haworth says the ability to switch between both of these options is really what makes collaboration meaningful and productive. Unfortunately, collaboration fails to achieve its promise when focus work is compromised in pursuit of group efforts. Thus, workplaces should be designed to accommodate both modes of work.
 
To complement meeting spaces and collaboration spaces, Haworth says companies need to consider adding small, conveniently located and unassigned "focus" spaces, for employees to use for short periods whenever they need. Haworth also recommended providing training for employees on effective work ethic and behavior.
 
The most important aspect of the workplace is to enable flow - a psychological concept which describes a mental state that occurs when we are fully immersed in an activity. Haworth's white paper suggests that meaningful work requires both situational awareness and flow.

Founded by G.W. Haworth in 1948, Haworth is a privately held, global leader in the contract furnishings industry. The company runs 17 manufacturing plants across the United States and Europe. Haworth's annual sales were $1.82 billion in 2015 and the company employs 7,000 workers.