Pay attention to attention

Pay attention to attention

Researchers from Steelcase, a company that provides workplace solutions, have found that understanding how brains work is crucial to studying workers’ behaviors and the changing nature of work. The author highlights five common scenarios to look out for at work


It’s well said that a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and most workers are now living that mental skirmish every day. While many of us are drowning in information, we’re also expected to process it faster, getting to insights, recommendations, and decisions more rapidly.

During the past year, Steelcase researchers have worked closely with neuroscientists and cognitive researchers and have found that understanding how brains work is crucial to studying workers’ behaviors and the changing nature of work. Here are five common scenarios to look out for at work:

Know how your brain works

Most organizations are operating on the assumption that focus is the pathway to productivity. However, neuroscience has proven that because the brain has finite energy capacity, it’s physiologically impossible to engage in a full workday of controlled attention while delivering quality results. Hence, we end up avoiding difficult tasks, learning little, remembering less and making silly mistakes.

Did you know? : 49 per cent – Is the percentage of workers who can’t choose where to work depending on the task, thereby compromising on productivity.

(Source: Steelcase well-being study, global average of 17 countries)

Ref: How Brains Work At Work-Brains get tired

It’s not a one man show

On high alert, we feel busy and important. However, continuous partial attention puts us in a constant state of crisis where we feel overwhelmed and unfulfilled, as well as powerless to do anything about it. By trying to stay connected to everything, we fail at connecting to anything. This is because we’re trying to hold too many things in our minds.

Did you know? 30 – Is the average number of times per hour an office worker checks their email inbox.

(Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information)

Ref: Mindfulness trains the brain

The myth about multitasking

In today’s workplace, many activities compete for our attention, demanding “airtime” on channels in our brain that can only properly handle one thing at a time. Study of neuroscience has proven that when we think we’re multitasking, we’re really switching our attention rapidly between things. People today are not aware of the amount they’re degrading their mental processes as they attempt to multitask throughout the day.

Did you know? : 8 – Is the average number of windows open on worker’s computer at the same time.

(Source: The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory by Torkel Klingberg)

Ref: Multitasking attention is inefficient.

Try a new path to productivity

The environment in which we work and learn are also full with distractions: too much information, people surrounding us, noise, and discomfort. Some of the stimuli that add life and energy to an environment in one context can feel overwhelming in another. Sometimes, the greatest distraction we face is the inner workings of our own minds.

Did you know? : Meditation can actually physically change the structure of your brain and has been found to increase the amount of gray matter which impacts self-awareness, perception and cognitive functions and can increase compassion, memory and creativity and decrease depression and anxiety.

(Source: The Emotional Life Of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect The Way You Think, Feel, And Live—And How You Can Change Them,” Richard J. Davidson And Sharon Begley)

Ref: Designing for distraction

Design for focus

Whether working alone or in teams, controlled attention requires being able to control the environment in order to minimize distractions. Within an open plan environment, workstations should be oriented so that users can face their work, prohibiting unwanted visual distractions.

Did you know? : Every 3 minutes- Is how frequently the average office worker is interrupted or distracted.

(Source: University of California, Irvine)

Ref: Insight

About the author: Uli Gwinner is the President of Steelcase Asia Pacific, responsible for overseeing all operations in the Asia Pacific region including Japan, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as emerging markets in India and Greater China. Previously, he served as president of Steelcase REMEA in charge of business operations in Eastern and Central Europe, Middle East, Africa and Italy. Uli is also a member of Steelcase’s executive team managing all Asian and European businesses since 2000.

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