Co-workers Are Biggest Distraction In Open Offices

A new survey finds Gen Z employees are most productive when working around noise, while Baby Boomers need quiet to get work done.

More than half of Gen Z (55 percent) and Millennials (56 percent) say they want open offices, despite the associated distractions, according to a new study from Future Workplace commissioned by unified communications company Plantronics, Inc. (Poly). The findings highlight how the four generations at work today think about their workplace environments, including what drives productivity, how they function in the office, and how they handle distraction.

open offices
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“When you consider how many different workstyles and different generations are thrown together in one place, it’s no wonder that almost everyone reports being distracted at work,” said Amy Barzdukas, CMO and Executive Vice President of Poly. “It’s equally clear that the right mix of technology and environment can reduce distraction and improve productivity – and that is what employees are asking for.”

The study found that people of all ages would love working in offices — if only they didn’t have noisy co-workers. Loud talkers are among the greatest perils of life in the office.

  • Nearly all (99 percent) employees report they get distracted while working at their personal workspace.
  • More than half say that distractions make it tough to listen or be heard on calls (51 percent) and impact ability to focus (48 percent).
  • Co-workers are to blame: Seventy-six percent of all employees surveyed said their biggest distraction is a co-worker talking loudly on the phone, and 65 percent say it’s a co-worker talking nearby.
  • Ninety-three percent are frustrated, at least occasionally, due to distractions during a phone or video call.

And yet, Gen Z and Millennials still prefer open offices, likely because they say they’re productive in noisy environments and tend to collaborate more than other generations.

  • Half of workers prefer an open workplace floor plan, and the younger they are, the more they want it: 55 percent of Gen Z and 56 percent of Millennials prefer open offices compared to 47 percent of Gen X and 38 percent of Baby Boomers.
  • More than half of Gen Z (52 percent) say they are most productive when they were working around noise or talking with others; 60 percent of Baby Boomers say they’re most productive when it’s quiet.
  • Twenty percent of Gen Z spend at least half their day on a telephone, video or multi-party call, while only 7 percent of Baby Boomers do the same.

“Gen Z is bringing millions of people into the global workforce, and our research finds that they have very different working styles compared to previous generations,” said Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace. “We now have four generations working under one roof, which forces companies to reconsider traditional definitions of what makes a productive office environment and how their employees can best collaborate with each other.”

Compared to their elders, Gen Z and Millennials are better able to deal with distractions, according to the study.

  • Thirty-five percent of Gen Z use headphones to deal with distraction, while only 16 percent of Baby Boomers do the same.
  • About four in 10 Gen Z and Millennials relocate to comfortable spaces such as a couch or cushioned chairs to work. On the flipside, more than half of Baby Boomers only work at their primary workspace.
  • Three times as many Boomers than Gen Z workers admit to not finding a solution to their open office distractions.

Notably, the survey results show that nearly three in four people would work in the office more — and be more productive — if employers would do more to reduce workplace distractions, providing a clear opportunity for IT, HR, and Facilities to collaborate. Nine out of 10 respondents say they get frustrated by distractions on phone or video calls and the majority of employees who rely on phone and video conferencing during the day say that distractions could be minimized with better technology (56 percent) and the elimination of background noise (56 percent). More than half of employees say that their organization can reduce office distractions by establishing quiet spaces or zones, setting guidelines on appropriate noise levels and changing the office layout.

The global survey was conducted by Savanta across the U.S., Canada, Spain, UK, Germany, France, China, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, and India March 18 – 26, 2019. For this survey, 5,150 respondents were asked general questions to explore office dynamics, distractions, and benefits at their corporate office. The study targeted employees who work three days minimum in a corporate office environment and at organizations of different sizes.


  1. Funny how people always think about blocking noise from reaching their ears but never about stopping it from the source (their mouth). Have you ever considered a noise cancelling, voice isolating microphone? Let us know if you’d like to try one out.

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