Countering Open Office Distractions With New Tech

Plantronics last week announced the release of four new audio devices that feature noise management and other technology aimed at helping employees achieve better focus at work. One goal, I learned in speaking with Jennifer Adams, senior product marketing manager for enterprise at Plantronics, is to get IT managers thinking about audio as they plan their UC strategies.

This is particularly important, Adams said, given the changing enterprise landscape.

A New Office Design Paradigm?
One of the recent trends in office design is the use of shared, open space. The idea behind the open office is that eliminating barriers like cubicles and walls helps improve collaboration. Such a design also tends to reduce costs.

Well, I don't know about you, but my experience with the open office design has been challenging. While it's great to have everyone within easy reach and collaboration is arguably good at my office as a result, the distractions that come with having sales and marketing teams within earshot of editorial has had a negative impact on my productivity. This is largely due to different working styles. When I'm in the office, I find myself having to work harder to be as productive as I am when in my home office environment and not subject to others' workday conversations and activities.

No Jitter contributor Henry Dewing, an independent industry analyst, recently wrote about how critical meeting space design and collaboration technology deployment are when it comes not just to coping with the "workplace of the future," but to innovating as well. Dewing specifically noted the need to provide tech catered toward the "anytime, anywhere workforce."

In a recent Fortune article, management consultant Edward G. Brown shared some interesting information about open offices and how they relate to productivity. According to self-assessments taken at Cohen Brown Management Group, a management consulting firm he co-founded, all levels of workers reported losing between three and five hours of productivity every day largely due to the interruptions that come with an open office design. A startling 93% said they were "often interrupted" at work.

When asked how the inability to avoid interruptions affected employees, 80% of respondents indicated it created a larger amount of stress, and 66% said it reduced their productivity, Brown wrote. In addition, Brown cited 2007 data from business research firm Basex Research, which found U.S. businesses alone waste $588 billion per year because of interruptions.

Leveraging Tech
So how do we, as employees, deal with higher levels of distractions in the workplace? Further, what can businesses do to gain the benefits of an open office design or flexible workspace while maintaining or even improving productivity? I think strategic procurement of collaboration technology could be the answer, so that's what Adams and I focused on when discussing the Plantronics launch.

Adams shared Plantronics research showing that all types of workers -- from mobile, to flex, to desk workers -- struggle with blocking out background and ambient noise.

"We looked at this [problem] as something that was low-hanging fruit for Plantronics to be able to help with, because we are audio experts," Adams said. "And we understand some of the challenges and possible solutions. We've also been able to validate that office noise and distractions are top of mind for a lot of enterprise customers, so this is really kind of a relevant topic right now."

New Tech at Plantronics
Plantronics, which has been in business for more than 50 years, has made a name for itself as a leader in audio communications in both the enterprise and consumer markets; it got into the UC game in 2010. Many in the communications industry will equate the name with audio headsets, contact center solutions, and wearables.

Four products make up this recent launch: Blackwire 725, Voyager Edge UC, Calisto 610, and Clarity 340. The product that stands out the most to me in this set is the Blackwire 725, which leverages active noise canceling (ANC) technology that could be especially helpful to counter the noise that comes with open office environments.

The other products in the launch are worth taking note of as well, so here's a brief overview of each and how they are uniquely designed to help boost productivity.

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When UC first came on the scene, IT managers typically looked at it from the software perspective, Adams said. They would worry about things like what servers they needed to support the technology, compatibility, and connectivity spectrums above everything else.

"A lot of times, audio devices or headsets were a consideration way far down in the rollout process for unified communications," Adams said. "So one of the things we've been trying to do is really try to educate our customers on the importance of planning your audio devices and thinking of them in the first three feet of your UC deployment and not the last three feet of your deployment."

Plantronics will be exhibiting at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2015, taking place March 16 – 19. Be sure to register for the event so you don't miss anything!

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