Recent changes in the way we work and hybrid working patterns have assumed home is the place for focus work. But does it have to be? We look at what focus is and how to design for it in the office.

Focus Work:

Attention is a Limited Resource

In a working world where distractions are rife, maintaining focus is a challenge. From constant notifications, colleagues’ conversation and other interruptions to the lure of social media, our ability to concentrate on a single task is under constant threat. On average, workers are interrupted every 10 minutes or so, then taking upwards of 25 minutes to get back in the zone. Recognising that attention is a finite resource is essential for optimising productivity and managing our time effectively.

Different Types of Focus & Attention

Focus at work can be broadly categorized into two main categories: routine/repetitive focus and creative-flow focus. Routine focus involves repetitive tasks that require sustained attention over time, while creative-flow focus is necessary for tasks that require innovation and deep thinking.

In the world of psychology, attention, or focus, can be divided into four main types:
  1. Selective Attention: This involves focusing on a particular task while suppressing external distractions. Visual Selective Attention (VSA) is the ability to concentrate on a specific visual task, ignoring irrelevant stimuli. Auditory Selective Attention works similarly but in the auditory domain. Selective attention helps us filter out unimportant details, differing from inattentional blindness, where intense focus on one thing causes us to miss unexpected events.
  2. Divided Attention: This is the ability to pay attention to two tasks simultaneously, like cooking while watching a TV show or driving while conversing with a passenger.
  3. Sustained Attention: This cognitive function allows individuals to maintain focus and engagement over time, particularly in monotonous or repetitive situations.
  4. Executive Attention: This enables the brain to focus, ignore distractions, and switch between multiple pieces of information while problem-solving.

In reality, we probably switch between these forms on a regular basis, even during a single task or project, but sustained attention is more likely to be effective during repetitive focus tasks and executive attention and selective attention when problem solving in the creative-flow focus state - which can be a solo or small group activity.

Creating an Optimal Environment for Focus

The environment plays a critical role in facilitating focus. Although current work patterns broadly suggest focus work is better performed at home and collaboration in the office, evidence shows that collaboration is more effective between periods of focus, so the office still needs spaces designed specifically for those tasks that require concentration.

Spaces designed for focus work should minimize visual and audible interruptions. Features like acoustic dampening, comfortable furniture, soft floor coverings, and flowing drapes can create a welcoming and energizing atmosphere. Natural light and views of green spaces can boost mood and productivity. Additionally, having flexible spaces that can adapt to different focus needs—whether for solo work or group collaboration—is essential.

Especially during creative-flow focus, but also to a large extent in routine focus, design and furniture can positively help concentration by reducing sensory distractions. But biophilic design cues can also promote calming emotions that help relaxation or even create an environment that subtly challenges the user. When too relaxed, we tend away from productive concentration and into drifting or inward-focused attention.

Individual Differences in Attention

Attention spans and concentration levels can vary widely among individuals. Factors such as age, sleep quality, and inherent susceptibility to distractions influence one’s ability to focus, before even considering the needs of neurodiverse individuals. Therefore, creating environments that cater to varied needs and preferences is crucial.

In terms of office design, the two main areas will be (en)closed or open spaces. For some, sitting in an enclosed space will be the only way to concentrate properly, so it’s worth ensuring these people are catered for. Enclosed rooms can also double as meditation spaces or even no-work spaces, with the addition of comfortable soft furnishings, carpeting, and adjustable lighting, especially acoustic versions (such as Hush or Nectar) and other acoustic treatments. But, realistically, the open plan, or broken plan space will dominate, so furnishing will be key to provision of a variety of focus options.

Acoustic and biophilic desk dividers, such as the Kowhai screen, offer basic focus spots for shorter periods of time or for those people good at selective attention

The next level up includes work-pods that provide a greater element of seclusion and with acoustic treatments can help diffuse extraneous noise. These lean-in, desk-based pieces are flexible, in that they can just as easily be used for the day-to-day, but positioned away from main thoroughfares are perfect for solid focus sessions. Hanging acoustic lighting above these desks can help create a defined and cosseted space and add to the biophilic feeling of refuge.

HUSH Light for Focus
Photo: wakaNINE
Return Focus Pod

Bringing the feeling and aesthetic of home into the office can also create an effective focus space with a lean-back element. Personal lounge pods with upholstered sides, armchairs or sofas can all give workers spaces to shed stress and relax into their task. Again, acoustic lighting further enhances the settings these pieces of furniture form. Make sure these are placed well away from noise, main routes and preferably with plentiful natural light. Again, flexibility is provided as these units are just as useful for social, relaxation and non-work periods too.

Personal Lounge with HUSH Light
Hush - Tokyo

Focus can also be a team function of course so, as part of a holistic office layout consideration should be given to spaces or furniture that allows for more than one person at a time to focus and concentrate on specific tasks. The same considerations around placement, acoustics, biophilia and flexibility apply.


In a world full of distractions, understanding and managing our limited attention is more important than ever. By employing strategies to enhance focus, designing environments that support concentration, and using flexible and appropriate furnishings we can optimize productivity and well-being. Embracing a holistic approach that considers culture, norms, technology, and the built environment will enable us to harness the power of focused work effectively.

Strategies to Enhance Focus

  1. Meditate: Regular meditation can improve focus by training the mind to stay on task.
  2. Spend Time in Nature: According to the attention restoration theory, nature replenishes cognitive resources, enhancing concentration. Nature exposure can also buffer the effects of loneliness and improve well-being.
  3. Take Breaks: Stepping away from work periodically can prevent burnout and maintain productivity.
  4. Listen to Music: Music can create a conducive environment for focus, whether it’s soothing nature sounds or energetic rock anthems.
  5. Avoid Multitasking: Focus on one task at a time to improve efficiency and quality of work.
  6. Exercise: Physical activity before focusing can enhance cognitive function and concentration.
  7. Declutter: A tidy workspace reduces distractions and promotes a clear mind.
Talk to us if you'd like to know more about our range of flexible and adaptable, acoustic, focus furnishings and lighting