Before people were working from home, noise distractions and lack of speech privacy negatively impacted productivity in all office environments. That has not changed.
As businesses strategize how to safely get employees back in the office, staggered work schedules, reduced onsite staff, and revised office layouts are common strategies being discussed. But people have become used to the sounds and privacy afforded to them while working from home, in their own space, where they are comfortable and protected. Some are looking forward to returning to the office, others are undecided, and a third group never wants to return.
The key to a positive return to the office will be keeping employees comfortable.
Future Forum by Slack conducted a 3 month survey of over 9,000 knowledge workers or skilled office workers around the world. The data from the survey is interesting. 39% of workers are wanting to return to the office and getting back to normal. But not far behind, 27% of workers never want to return to the office or rarely be in the office. 34% reported to be somewhere in the middle or undecided.
But the analytic that was most interesting to me was the breakdown by age groups. Older workers (55-64) prefer working from home the most (17%) while younger employees (25-44) are more open to returning to the office (89%).
The younger workers are dealing with work from home challenges that the older workforce probably doesn't have. Balancing work with children is difficult to begin with and even moreso while working from home. 55-64 year old workers typically do not have children still living at home.
Combine those challenges with others that often face younger workers such as just starting a new position, changing industries, still learning the ropes, etc... and it's understandable why they are looking to get back into the office where they can focus on their career.
And when they return to the office, it is important to provide them with a place where they can focus, be productive, and get the comfort they are looking for to be successful. Office noise and distractions have been documented to negatively impact productivity. Reduced staff onsite, staggered work schedules, and revised office layouts will likely exacerbate the problem. But technologies such as sound masking and background music systems can create a comfortable environment where employees can focus on their work. Not only will these technologies assist in employee comfort, they can also improve productivity. Sounds like a Win Win to me.