In open office plans, noise is a serious problem. Speech creates the largest disturbance because it is directly understood and processed by the brain immediately. Other distractions are created by copiers, printers, telephones ringing, speaker phones, computers, keyboards and heating and cooling units. Some people are able to block out noises, but unfortunately this is not a learned skill. There are several different effects that noise can have on individuals aside from decreased productivity and stress, such as: increased illness, increased hormone levels, interference with speech, lower morale and fatigue.
Open office formats are intended to increase team work and a sense of cohesiveness within departments. However, this can backfire when it becomes too close for comfort. What type of noise is disruptive and at what point noise becomes disruptive will vary from employee to employee. Sending a “gentle reminder” to be cognizant of our own volume, in an all employee e-mail or mentioning it briefly in a company meeting, may be the first step to decreasing employee discontent. But such reminders only last a short time. Cubicle dwellers may complain to their managers off and on about the negative effects of noise but what can be done?
Basic sound control methods in office design include: absorbing sound with ceiling tiles, fabrics and carpets, blocking sound with strategically placed cubicle walls and partitions and decreasing noise by masking it. Barriers made of porous material such as cork or thick fabric may also reduce noise levels. There are also products that may be used in walls and ceilings, like soundproof foam and drywall. With regards to noise masking – there is a “pink noise system”, which is a soft whooshing sound produced over loudspeakers that sounds like a ventilation system, but is specially formulated to match the frequencies of human voices. However, some employees may find that sounds being emitted over loudspeakers are just as bothersome as others. As an option for individual employees, there are also web-based applications that can be accessed on the Internet or via a mobile device that generate white noise to help block out office disruptions. To some, a babbling brook may be more annoying than their coworker’s phone chatter, but there are many ambient sound options to choose from.
Investing in noise reduction solutions may seem pricy, but it may prove to be cost effective for employers who have experienced frequent employee complaints about noise levels. Decreasing stress amongst employees will no doubt increase employee morale and productivity, which is good for everyone!
For additional information on noise in the workplace, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.
Written By: Kristen Shingleton Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP
President, New Focus HR LLC