The Open Office is too overwhelming for the brain

New insights about the open office  

The open office was the trend off the century when it comes to offices spacing. The open office would contribute to a better atmosphere by stimulating the communication between colleagues and different departments. The image of the open office: a fresh, open space, with people standing around thinking of brilliant new ideas, asking each other tough questions and solving complex problems together. The reality: people are over stimulated by the open office and can’t handle being exposed to everything around them. Most brains are not capable of processing this huge amount of information and have a hard time to filter the relevant from the irrelevant talks around them. The consequence of the open office is that employees call in sick more often, make more mistakes during their work and reduce the productivity in general ( The open office seems to be ‘disruptive’ in a bad kind of way, by disrupting the brain and the productivity.

Survival of fittest in the “office jungle”

From the perspective of cognition, it is easily explained why some people are capable of resisting all irrelevant stimuli around them, while others are not. Everyone has a unique set of cognitive capacities, that result in one’s talent. Not everyone has the talent to work in an open office. For those it can feel like working in a zoo or a jungle. So, what is the cognitive profile of an open office hero?

  • Composure: you need to be able to stay controlled at all times. Filtering out external cues that are not relevant is essential.
  • Mental flexibility: you need to be able to shift easily between conversations and tasks.
  • Guiding attention: it is inevitable that you’re distracted every once in a while. Therefore, it is important that you can guide your attention easily to the task you were working on. Doing this reduces the time used to continue where you left off.

Don’t you recognize yourself in this profile? No worries, there are certain things that can help to survive in the open office.

4 tips to survive the open office

Are you easily distracted? These tips can help you to maintain your focus:

  • Wear head phones. This is my personal favourite. Music can help with creating the perfect flow to get some work done. It might not look very inviting for colleagues, but that is a part of why it is so efficient.
  • Are there any desks/spots that are a little more isolated? For example near a window or a wall. Try to get one of those spots.
  • Agree on a sign that means ‘please don’t distract me’ and use this when you need all your focus to get your work done. Sounds a bit childish, but if it works, it works!
  • Make sure your own desk and computer screen are organized. Block your office chat, turn off push messages or e-mail popups etc. If your work environment is a bit chaotic, make sure you create a little of oasis of peace and quietness in your own desk.

However, these tips cannot change the fact that some people simply perform better in environments that are more peaceful and quiet. If you want people to perform at their full potential it is important to find the right match between the person and the job, both on content and work environment. Finding this match is both relevant in talent acquisition and talent development of employees. Measuring cognition can bring you one step closer to find the perfect match between jobs and people.

Want to know more about the “open office brains”?

Do you want to know if you got what it takes to work in an open office? Or do you want to improve your talent acquisition process by incorporating the match between cognition and work environment? Please contact us!