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Ways To Cope With Sensory Overload

Office group collaborating in open office space.
Office group collaborating in open office space.

Open plan workplaces have boasted increased collaboration, improved comradery, greater transparency and a more productive workplace. However, it has been suggested that employees are one third as productive in open office designs as in quiet rooms.

While increased collaboration and room to work together with colleagues appears to make sense on paper, there seems to be very little evidence to support this. Combine the magnitude of physical distractions that come with an open plan office (noisy conversations, phone calls, music) with the fact that we must constantly be switched on to our digital worlds (email and social media) and it comes as no surprise that we are becoming overloaded with the sheer number of messages we must receive and deal with throughout the day.

In a world overflowing with stimuli, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. In the workplace specifically, this sensory overload can reduce productivity and disrupt our peace of mind while we work.

So, what can we do if we’re trying to cope with sensory overload at work?

1. Working out of the office

Many employers are becoming more and more flexible about where employees work, as long as the work is getting done. Establishing days where you can work from home or at another location (like a conference space) can help reduce sensory overload and give you a quiet space to focus.

2. Flexible work hours

Other options include flexible start and finish times that allow you to work when there are less people in the office or even booking in scheduled times throughout the day where you move to a quiet space, such as a conference room, to ensure you’re staying productive.

3. Get moving

When we’ve got an endless to do list, taking time out of the day to simply stand up and switch off can seem impossible but it’s an important way to ensure you don’t become overwhelmed. Not only does standing up and stepping away from the screen help you physically, it also has a magnitude of mental benefits.

To ensure you’re moving, download apps like Rise & Recharge to remind you throughout the day.

4. Designated spaces

If your office is based around an open plan layout, consider approaching management about having designated spaces for specific tasks.

For example, American company Yodle wanted to keep the energy of a start-up while having enough space to accommodate growth. In order to encourage collaboration but also recognise the importance of quiet spaces, their office included a quiet corner where employees could take their laptops and work without distraction or interruption. The specific intensive work area was visually effective and signalled to other staff they were not to be disturbed when working in the space.

5. ‘Do not disturb’ signifiers

Following the theme of having specific work spaces, setting up signifiers to your co-workers that you’re not to be interrupted can increase your productivity and prevent sensory overload at work.

Research has found that when interrupted, it can take up to 25 minutes to get back to your original task and even something as simple as putting in headphones can let everyone around you know that you need to get work done.

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