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How a Noisy Office Can Affect Productivity

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When there’s a list of tasks a mile long that need completion, the last thing you need is to be subjected to the inane chatter of your workmates or the constant phone conversations taking place around you which can directly affect productivity.

Noise can be so annoying, and while open plan offices are cost effective and contribute to team building and positive workplace culture, it can also reduce productivity and morale. One sound expert suggests that an open plan office can reduce productivity by as much as 66%! 

With so much noise surrounding the workplace, it’s worth sounding out some advice on solutions that keep staff happy and businesses functioning smoothly.

What’s all the noise about?

In today’s world of modern technology, we’re surrounded by noises and sound that we often don’t even consciously recognise. Traffic on a main road, footsteps on hard floors, printers, shredders, and incessant phone pings and rings all contribute to the noise level we’re exposed to daily.  

Then there’s the sound of people talking – and the more conversation there is, the higher the volume rises! Think of how loud it gets in a pub on a Friday night – background sports on the televisions, music blaring, and everyone straining to hear and to be heard. The office space isn’t hugely different, only with phone calls and chatty co-workers in place of the televisions and music. 

All these sounds impact people’s health. While we don’t always recognise the immediate effect of long-term noise exposure, the body responds with its normal reaction to stress, which can lead to fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches and mental tension. 

Although it’s impossible to escape from the noise that surrounds our day to day lives, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the impact on both productivity and stress levels.

Softening the impact

Hard surfaces cause sound to bounce and travel, and the simple introduction of carpet, soft furnishings and insulation will help to absorb the level of reverberation in a room or office space. 

One useful solution is to adhere acoustic panels to the wall. These fabric panels come in a range of attractive colours and can be used to liven up the office space and display memos and information, all while making the workspace kinder on your ears. Acoustic wall panels aren’t limited to the office – they can make a huge difference to noisy classrooms, echoey hallways and loud foyers, all while adding a pleasant aesthetic to the space. 

Divider panels can be used to separate office spaces and can be attached to desks for preventing sound travel between smaller spaces. Useful for privacy as much as noise absorption, these screens are often covered with fabric that can double as a pinboard for storing memos or personalising the individual workspace. 

Mobile divider screens work as partitions for larger spaces and can be set up for temporary meeting areas or room sectioning. Many divider screens have surfaces that can be written on or pin-able fabric, making them ideal for displaying important information while helping to reduce noise levels. 

For smaller, less formal meetings, furniture can be used that actively reduces noise bouncing and provides a high degree of privacy. This seating is available in single chairs or modular lounges, providing peace and quiet with a great degree of comfort. 

It’s also possible to provide a degree of noise reduction with the use of plantshowever, there must be enough of them spread evenly throughout the space to be fully effective.

Psychology of sound

Sound can be used to positive effect as well. While the constant drone of background noise can add to stress, music or sounds of nature are particularly useful for improving morale and productivity. 

Expert Julian Treasure claims that listening to birds singing or other soothing sounds can triple productivity in the office, while working in a loud and disruptive environment leaves people working at only a third of their potential. 

Music can be used to improve people’s emotional states, although individual music taste is rather diverse. An ideal solution would be the provision of headphones for each staff member, although it’s also worth consulting team members about playing radio or recorded music for all to hear.  

People’s responses to music is variable. Many find that it helps them to focus and find creative solutions, while others find it distracting – especially if it’s their neighbour’s music playing and not their own! Research shows that productivity and concentration is significantly improved when background music is playing, especially if it’s music without lyrics or speech. 

For some spaces, it’s worth considering sound masking; a technology that can make a space seem quieter by adding a background noise. It works by raising the noise level of an environment so that speech is less intelligible and other standard sounds fade into the background. Sound masking doesn’t cancel out noise, but it does improve privacy by making sure that the entire office isn’t privy to your conversations.

Although It’s not always front of mind, the impact of noise can make or break a business. By paying attention to the noise levels of an office space, it’s possible to improve productivity and morale and send everyone home in a good headspace instead of with a headache. 

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