How background noise affects the way you work

Carefully designed, sophisticated, open plan offices now account for 70% of all workspaces. These open spaces do offer important benefits and facilitate ways of working that enhance creativity but they also carry a major downside; lack of sound privacy.

Open workspaces usually feature smooth surfaces, which reflect sound, create harsh echoes and exacerbate environmental noises. A study by Steelcase and Ipsos has revealed that workers lose as much as 86 minutes per day due to noise distractions. Background noise has a significant impact on employee productivity levels and wellbeing in the workplace. We take a look at the problems associated with a loud office and offer solutions to reduce background noise.

How does a noisy office impact our wellbeing and productivity?

Loud sounds and prolonged exposure to certain noises can trigger physiologic stress responses in our bodies, such as spikes in blood pressure and heart rate. Even usual office noises, such as the telephone conversations or chatty colleagues can affect the rhythm and rate of our hearts, causing stress and affecting wellbeing of staff members.

Research from the British Journal of Psychology found that background noise kills productivity levels, with studies showing that workers can be up to 66% less productive when exposed to just one nearby conversation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the annual cost to Europe from excessive noise levels is £30 billion. This figure includes loss of productivity, lost working days and healthcare costs. So, what can you do to reduce noise in the workplace?

  1. Provide quiet areas to work

Use an empty small office or conference room and turn it into a ‘quiet room’ that employees can go to when trying to focus on an important task or project. These spaces will be designated for non-group work and help provide a place for staff to work independently and quietly.

  1. Introduce designated “loud spaces”

In contrast, you could also designate specific areas around the office that encourage interaction and discussion. Lunch areas or even phone rooms can help communicate to employees that while they’re at a desk, they should make minimal noise.

  1. Bring in sound absorbing materials

Open offices allow sound to travel throughout the whole space. Hard surfaces do a poor job at absorbing sounds, so bringing in softer materials such as carpets can help to improve sound absorption.

Plants boast sound absorbing capabilities that work just as effectively in an indoor environment as well as an outdoor setting. Plants also carry significant health benefits including improving oxygen levels in an office.

Partitions and noise reduction panels are also a common way to block and absorb sound. For example, our ActiVita Noise reduction boards can reduce noise in any space by up to 50%. Incorporating some of these simple tips could well be what you need to improve productivity levels and of course, employee wellbeing and comfort at work. To stay up to date with our latest product releases and news follow @rexeleurope on Twitter or visit the Rexel website.