The F Word

Designing for Focus Work.

The unholy trinity of workplace focus disruption are distractions, interference and interruptions.

  • DISTRACTIONS: When unexpected, off-task information captures our attention
  • INTERFERENCE: When off-task information gets confused with task information
  • INTERRUPTIONS: When a distraction or interference pulls us off a task entirely to start a new task

They are focus sabotage and show up in the form of external influences, like people or activities around you, or internal stressors, like hunger and fatigue.

All of these can disrupt your brain’s ability to focus.

Today, designing for focus work requires a different tactic: a planning model that supports the necessary focus work for both individual work and successful collaboration efforts.

A well-rounded approach can meet the needs for both kinds of work by incorporating variety, choice, control, legibility, and recharging.


Either/or is not your only option. Successful workplaces provide both private and open spaces and put systems in place for people to choose what meets their needs. Focus work can be done in all sorts of spaces: Some people want to be in the “office buzz” while others may need a quiet or remote location.

The key is to provide a variety and let people choose, we bet you an ottoman that not everyone will want a private office.


Empower employees with choices. Let them choose where, how, and when they work. Organisations that successfully deploy alternative workplace strategies argue that, if given the choice, workers will find the best place, the best way, and the best time to do focus work productively.


Give your people control. Let employees regulate how to organise and personalise their workspaces, when to pop up for social interactions and colleagues and when to go off the grid. Let them manage their own lighting, ambient temperature, and work processes. Knowing they have some control over their work environment can counteract the negative effects of distractions on their performance.


Getting from A to B to C in the workplace should be easy. Simple and intelligible layouts that people can easily read allow them to smoothly navigate the space and avoid frustrating and confusing experiences.

Intelligible design allows workers to quickly form a mental map of the overall workplace, easily locate colleagues, and determine the intended use for each workspace.

Good storage keeps clutter to a minimum and is less distracting both for navigation and work.

Create spaces that make it easy for employees to spend their efforts on work itself, not trying to find a way to work.



Give employees time and spaces for breaks. After doing intense focus work, everyone needs to recharge.

Encourage mini-breaks throughout the day that take care of physical needs (healthy snacks and clean, comfortable restrooms) and social needs (opportunities to chat with co-workers in lounge areas). One or two larger breaks during the day, like hitting the gym or going for a walk, can invigorate people for a longer stretch of work.

Access to a variety is essential for employees to be well recharged and ready to focus again.

For a more in depth look at managing workplace distractions, download the Haworth whitepaper Designing For Focus Work


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