Has the productivity-killing, sickness-spreading and frankly-just-irritating virus spread to your workplace yet?

Their popularity has spread like wildfire, infecting offices across the nation. According to BBC, 70 percent of offices in the United States have now adopted an open floor design plan.

Sitting elbow-to-elbow with your colleagues was once heralded as fantastic for collaboration and culture-building. Who needs the privacy of offices and cubicles? Hearing your coworkers chew and their mindless chitchat is the modern way to work. It's also more cost effective for employers, as open floor plans require less square footage per employee.

Not everyone loves working in their open offices. In fact, few people do. The design flaws have become a real problem for productivity. People cannot concentrate at their desks. Fewer employee have access to quiet spaces. We suffer from information overload at work because we have no way to block it all out. Unsurprisingly, it's one reason why remote workers are outperforming office workers.

This presents a new problem: 70 percent of offices are now stuck with the open floor plan. They can't exactly revamp the entire office and install cubicles or quiet areas for everyone.

But you can get new furniture.

Furniture that serves yet another purpose

Researchers and designers have discovered an opportunity. If they can design furniture that creates more quiet spaces and lowers the noise levels in your open office, they have a goldmine on their hands.

Enter the egg-shaped chair. Dr. Manuj Yadav from the University of Sydney's has been testing the chair's design, as The Atlantic reports. Yadav did his PhD in musical psychoacoustics. He's working on a project funded by the Australian Research Council about solving speech distraction in open offices. Yadav's chair blends research, design and acoustics to create seating that makes open offices more bearable.

Tackling 2 kinds of distracting noise

The chair looks funny, but it sounds like it may be effective in muffling some of the distracting noise that makes working in open offices so difficult. Its design addresses two important acoustical elements: external noise created by other people and the noise you create yourself.

First, it reduces what you can hear around you. Imagine an egg with a hole cut out for a seat. The walls curve around you to help isolate you from the noise. The Atlantic says this lowers noise levels by 10 decibels, which has a similar effect to cupping your hands over your ears.

The chair also encourages you to lower your own voice. Ever been in a noisy restaurant and had to yell to be heard by the person sitting across from you? People raising their voices to be heard over the din is also a problem in open offices. So the chair's walls also bounce your own voice back to you, which naturally leads you to speak more quietly.

The chair is not yet in development, but Yadav and his research team are presenting it this week at the Acoustical Society of America's bi-annual meeting. ​But it doesn't solve all problems. While it does have impressive noise-reducing features, this isn't a desk chair. You'd place an egg chair or two in a common area.

For now, noise-reducing headphones continue to be your best coping mechanism for your seatmate's incessantly loud keyboard banging. (Maybe they're just mad about working in an open office, too.)

Published on: May 10, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.