The modern office layout trends toward open floor plans and co-working spaces. This layout allows employees to collaborate with each other, but that ability to collaborate involves speaking over interoffice noise.
Noise is everywhere, inside and outside, at home, at work and in your pocket. That’s just how it is, right? It doesn’t have to be, and employees increasingly see how noise is negatively affecting their ability to do their jobs.
What do you do? Some changes you will have to make on your own, but it’s your job to demand better of your workplace.
Employees Want Employers to Create a Distraction-Free Environment
The constant walk-ins and interruptions, in addition to a circus of copy machines, phones ringing and typing, negatively impacts job satisfaction. Add that to outside noise filtering in and the frustrations of noise on a daily level, especially on the commute to work — and you’ve got a very frustrated and worn out employee.
Noise is the number one complaint employees have and wish their employers would fix — that’s over other freebies employees could have, such as half days on Friday or catered lunches. Even millennials, the generation that grew up with technology, want quiet spaces to do their work.
Millennials aren’t alone in their need to be rid of noise at the office, either. Over 1,200 non-senior employees across various industries, from healthcare to retail, were surveyed by Oxford Economics, and 74 percent stated they worked in an open plan layout. More than half of all respondents reported issues with noise levels.
Even 69 percent of supervisors had their office designed with noise reduction as a factor, with 64 percent of supervisors planning to keep outside noise out, too.
Noise Negatively Affects Your Work Performance and Health
Noise disrupts your work and ability to focus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set recommended levels of noises at 85 decibels.
Yet, over 30 million American employees are exposed to hazardous noise levels at the office. Over time, it will affect your work performance and health:
- If working in an open office layout, your productivity suffers by up to 66 percent when you’re within earshot of one distracting conversation.
- Those who multitask habitually become distracted by noise in their environment more frequently and find it more difficult to get back to the original task afterwards.
- Exposure to hazardous noise levels affects your nervous system, leading to raised blood pressure and increased stress hormones.
- Employees who endure prolonged noise are less likely to adjust their posture and are more likely to slump at their desks, leading to increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Not to mention, those same workers will lose their concentration, experiencing higher epinephrine levels linked with high stress.
- Prolonged exposure to moderate noise levels may damage your hearing. This level of moderate sound equates to a busy street or cafeteria.
Reduce the Distractions by Reducing Noise Levels in the Office
It’s time to work together with management to reduce noise levels in the office. This will boost your productivity, health and work morale. That may mean structural improvements such as sound panels or getting creative with the office layout:
- White noise will help soothe your ears and block out unwanted noise. Many light sleepers keep a fan on to block out distractions. A little fan at work will go a long way to keeping you sane and productive. If the fan is too distracting and you need your own music, consider noise-canceling headphones.
- Fill the office with sound-friendly furniture. Know how a larger room carries noises farther? The furniture in a room also affects the acoustics. High-backed couches, booths in enclosed spaces, lounge areas and wall partitions will help break open floor plans up and redistribute sound. The new furniture layout will also give employees more privacy to think.
- Add plants to your office. Larger plants, strategically placed, will reduce office noise pollution. Bringing nature indoors will also improve air quality, encouraging you to breathe when you feel stressed.
- Install sound insulation material. This material can help to keep sounds from transferring from room-to-room and space-to-space.
- Install acoustic panels to reduce noise pollution by absorbing sound. Designers have come up with many styles to fit your office aesthetic.
- Test the acoustics. Certain industries, such as medical, telecommunications, military and even business, require testing for acoustic noises to keep technician hearing protected. OSHA and other regulatory entities require acoustic emissions of various equipment be known, labeled and safe.
- Get rid of noisy office equipment. Upgrade to new systems and printers. Choose an e-fax service over a regular fax machine. Relocate noisy equipment to its own room to create a small print center for staff.
- Create a meditation room or silent work space. Transform a storage room into a mindful space dedicated to quiet time. Employees will have a space to go to when they need to clear their minds.
Observe the noise levels in your office and how employees respond to those levels throughout the day. At certain parts of the day, noise levels will peak. Ask how others cope with hazardous sounds and seek solutions together by employing some of the suggestions above.
A little creative rearranging, installing and upgrading can achieve a happier and healthier workplace — with relief from stress and noise pollution.