A toxic cocktail of distractions, interruptions and noise mean workers need to flee to a sanctuary to turbo-boost productivity
Sometimes it takes a scientist to tell us what we already know. Academic research is confirming that often bland corporate offices are sub-optimal places to work and can at times drive us crazy.
Research by Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, shows that interruptions, even minor ones, lead to rushed work. She notes: “People in the interrupted conditions experienced a higher workload, more stress, higher frustration, more time pressure and effort.”
Mental patterns are changed and workloads handled differently. And there’s nowhere like an office for interruptions.
Rob Cross and Peter Gray of the University of Virginia monitored knowledge workers, and found 70 to 85 per cent of time was devoured by attending unproductive meetings, dealing with e-mail and phone calls and generally handling pleas for attention from staff.
They warned: “Excessive collaboration demands can also damage employees’ productivity and even their health, as a large body of literature over the past two decades has documented. Suicide is the most shocking outcome, but subtle effects of stress and strain also lead to medical conditions that shorten the lives of millions of workers each year.”
If offices are so terrible, why do we go there? Perhaps we should all stay at home.
Carlo Ratti, chairman of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Future Cities, looked at this question, and concluded we still need a place to meet and work. “We strive for places that allow us to share knowledge, to generate ideas, and to pool talents and perspectives,” he says. “Human aggregation, friction and the interaction of our minds are vital aspects of work.”
He’s right. We need somewhere friendly and convenient to work. The solution? Alas, not coffee shops with music playing in the background, the lack of available seats and eavesdroppers snaffling trade secrets. With the likes of Costa Coffee capping wi-fi at 30 minutes to accelerate churn, coffee shops just aren’t viable in today’s business environment.
Harvard Business Review hails the best possible working environment as co-working spaces and on-demand, flexible meeting spaces. Academics Gretchen Spreitzer, Peter Bacevice and Lyndon Garrett wrote: “There seems to be something special about these spaces. As researchers who have, for years, studied how employees thrive, we were surprised to discover that people who belong to them report levels of thriving that approach an average of six on a seven-point scale.”
They added with near incredulity: “This is at least a point higher than the average for employees who do their jobs in regular offices and something so unheard of that we had to look at the data again.”
The reasons? Firstly, the mix of people is rich, but varied. They said: “Because there is little direct competition or internal politics, they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in. Working amidst different people doing different kinds of work can also make one’s own work identity stronger.”
Secondly, there’s cross collaboration, which in such spaces has no bounds. Chance meetings with other innovators, potential customers, suppliers or even investors can lead to unexpected breakthroughs.
And lastly, there’s a sense of shared philosophy. Co-workers are focused on productivity, lean working, results and community. It’s a formula so powerful that many progressive multinationals have changed their thinking about conventional office space. They are now offering their employees the ability to work remotely and flexibly by taking advantage of some of the more professional and productive alternatives that now exist where once a coffee shop may have been the only option.
The Clubhouse, with locations in Mayfair and St James’s in central London, is in the vanguard of the movement with clients including Tesla, Lazard, Morgan Stanley, Samsung and Grosvenor. The Clubhouse founder Adam Blaskey says clients are drawn by the unique working environment.
“Yes, we have entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses, which gives The Clubhouse a high energy atmosphere, but the vast majority of our members are growing small and medium-sized enterprises and blue chips that need a central-London base, but not the overhead which often goes with it,” he says.
“Some are located outside London and need a flexible base in the capital. Others are located close by, and even around the corner, but need somewhere executives can escape to when they really need to focus on a project or require overflow meeting space.”
There are a range of private meeting rooms; open-plan co-working for quiet concentrated effort; lounges and flexible meeting areas for hosting important clients; wi-fi is ultra-fast and unlimited; coffee is free; newspapers are available; and there’s a dedicated team offering all the support your business needs.
“Our members can’t believe they once used to meet and conduct business in coffee shops,” says Mr Blaskey. “They are so crowded, unproductive and unprofessional.” Research shows the average company spends £5,824 a year on taxis, coffee, snacks and newspapers, making the move to co-working and flexible meeting spaces cost-neutral. And offices are frenetic.
Mr Blaskey concludes: “Spaces, such as libraries, coffee shops and hotel lobbies, are simply inadequate. What executives need is a third option; a place where productivity is proven to reach peak levels. Companies that need to improve the way they work should come and take a look at The Clubhouse.”