Coffee shops are a veritable soundtrack of distraction. Baristas steam and blend from behind the counter, music plays continuously, and patrons use their outside voices to order their drinks inside.
And, yet, with all this potential chatter, coffeehouses are still popular places to take off-campus work meetings. A study conducted by Journal of Consumer Research revealed that a modicum amount of ambient noise, of which coffee shops have plenty, can help enhance creativity, performance, and concentration; then there’s the long-established theory of the “audience effect,” which states that a small audience feeds a person’s internal competitive streak and can help improve performance.
But when it comes to conducting productive meetings, note that those studies don’t translate to every setting. For example, a rollercoaster line (a place where I’ve actually tried to conduct a phone meeting) is filled with noisy patrons, plus you might get rushed into ending an important conversation prematurely if you’re next in line. An airplane poses the same problem; your call might annoy nearby passengers and may be cut short if it bumps up against takeoff.
When prepping for your next meeting, don’t let an environment and its uncontrollable variables deter the task at hand. Pick a spot that minimizes distractions and maximizes productivity.
Don’t Be a Product of Your Environment
If not the amusement park or airport, where should you meet? Meetings should take place in spaces where you can minimize or control the number of distractions around you in order to maintain optimal productivity.
Diversions are costly, both in time and money. A study by Basex, a productivity research firm, revealed that interruptions, preoccupations, and the resulting recovery time from them eat into 28 percent of the average employee’s workday and can cost companies $588 billion.
Distracting variables, for even a short period of time, can throw off your agenda and the focus of the meeting — a setting that’s not primed for optimal focus can be even more disruptive. In an open workspace, for example, author Julian Treasure estimates that employees can be up to 66 percent less productive, while an additional study of open floor plans saw a reduction of productivity by 15 percent due to unwanted activity in the employees’ brains.
It’s similar to the television newscaster doing a live broadcast in front of a sporting event, only to have drunk fans in the background trying to capture the attention. You end up with a distracting element that makes it difficult to focus on the task at hand.
The productivity of your next meeting hinges on the location in which you have it. Search for a place that contains minimal external distractions, and ask your participants to do their part by silencing phones and putting away potentially distracting electronics or deterrents. Ensure that your setting — at the very least — keeps distractions at bay so the contents of your meeting don’t just blend into white noise for attendees.
Have you ever held a meeting in a venue that hindered productivity? Do you have any tips for keeping distractions to a minimum in busy places? If so, share your comments below!