Office noise is defined as a collective noise volume from the movement and actions of people, audible conversations, appliance hum, ventilation vibration, and trigger sounds such as telephones, beeping, and tea making, etc.
Measured in decibels, human hearing registers and requires your brain to processes sounds from zero on the decibel scale, regardless of whether you notice or feel you have reacted to the sound. Excessive levels of office noise is an ambient stressor which can contribute to stress and illness, which in turn, can also contribute to absenteeism and turnover in staff.
When planning an office space refurbishment, workplace managers may seek to reduce sound transmission for privacy reasons, however the impact of noise disturbance to employees is often not the main priority.
Numerous studies exist on the impact of noise disturbance in the office environment. Whilst their findings vary, the severity of that impact all agree that noise distraction leads to loss of productivity as concentration is broken or a generalised background irritation exists. These distractions hamper the efforts of office-based workers, particularly impacting those needing to focus on detailed tasks or multitasking. When their attention is interrupted, they not only have the disturbance from the event, but it also takes them longer to re-engage with their activity creating preventable stress and potential for error.
Studies have found that workers who routinely work in a louder noise environment were more tired, less motivated at work and remembered less of training/study than compared to those working in a low noise environment. Prolonged exposure to workplace noises can trigger physiologic stress responses in our bodies – such as spikes in blood pressure and heart rate and sleep disturbance. Contributing to anxiety and depression and even triggering PTSD.
With awareness of the importance of wellness and wellbeing in the workplace, knowing that excessive noise can significantly reduce employee productivity, create physical illness and lead to psychological distress, it’s perhaps a surprise that it is infrequently mentioned as a priority by those requesting office space refurbishment or improvement. Clearly office workplace noise is an issue requiring attention, however there are many solutions.
If you’re seeking a full office refurbishment, your fit-out can be tailored with your contractor to include acoustic glazing, insulation and plasterboard, and good planning will ensure electrical and ventilation conduits transmit only those services, not sound reverberation.
Take advice on space planning, creating desk-based concentration zones separated from social or collaborative areas and an appropriate level of meeting places so that meetings don’t stray into other work areas. Work with your designers on a sound mitigation strategy perhaps introducing partitioning and acoustic baffling measures or installations, they’re a lot easier to implement and infinitely more stylish than they sound. Also consider investing in telephone pods and booths, these specialist acoustic products provide completely private spaces in an open-plan environment, ideal conditions for important calls and video conferencing whilst sparing colleagues from having to listen to half a conversation. Your designer can also demonstrate how simple choices such as flooring substance, upholstery fabrics and finishing elements like loose fabrics and plants can all work in conjunction to reduce noise levels by absorbing and diffusing sound waves.
A considered office workspace which has been commissioned with attention to reduce potential noise distractions is an altogether more productive environment, enabling task focus, enjoyable and collaborative working and still protects that essential privacy for sensitive conversations and meetings.