Why workplace noise is more than a nuisance

While open plan offices bring space saving and collaboration benefits, the sounds they can produce are one of the biggest sources of dissatisfaction for many employees.

From phone chatter and colleagues’ conversations, to footsteps on hard floors and the sounds of printers and air conditioning, many of us are feeling less than happy about these types of interruptions.

Biggest drain on morale

A study by the University of Sydney found that a lack of sound privacy was by far the biggest drain on employee morale, with around 25% of people in open plan offices dissatisfied with the noise level of their workspaces.

Loss of productivity due to noise distraction is doubled in open plan offices compared to private offices, according to other research. This also finds that where our work requires a complex verbal process, we’re even more likely to be disturbed than when we’re doing relatively simple or routine tasks.

Fight or flight

A study of 40 office workers who were exposed to open office noises showed that these sounds increased their epinephrine levels, which can trigger our ‘fight or flight’ response. In other words, all kinds of workplace sounds can activate feelings of anger or irritation among employees, and reduce productivity.

How noise travels

Sound is made up of low frequency waves, like radio waves. When something makes a sound, it emits these waves which will travel in all directions from the source.

These waves will keep travelling until they meet a surface, such as a wall, panel or curtains. But they can also bounce off many of these surfaces, which can cause an effect known as reverberation that strengthens the sound.

To prevent noise becoming a major nuisance, we not only need materials that absorb or block sound, but ones that do not allow it to reverberate or echo.

How can we manage workplace noise?

There are a range of answers to noisier workplaces. These include:

  1. Space choice
    Many employers are introducing quiet areas where people can work in relative silence, away from the bustle of the open plan office. Offering a choice of workspaces gives people the chance to find a location to suit their tasks on any given day. Organisations can make meeting rooms, break out areas, kitchens and even the canteen available for employees who need some respite.
  2. Flexible working
    Being flexible with working patterns is another option. Allowing people to come in early or stay late, provided they meet core time and task requirements, could help to ensure less busy times at the start or end of the day, if the right balance of people choose to opt for a late start or early departure.
  3. Go green
    Believe it or not, greenery can reduce noise, and help us to create more welcoming and less stressful environments. Among the benefits of bringing a bit of nature into the workplace is the ability of plants to absorb, diffract and reflect sound. How well any plant can do this depends on the frequency at which sound is generated, the type of room and the type of plant and container used, but many plants are able to achieve a significant improvement in noise reduction.
  4. Furniture solutions
    A furniture-based solution to better noise levels also comes in the shape of sound absorbing wall and ceiling mounted tiles from Eden. The baffle range, which uses sound absorbing foam, can decrease noise reverberation time by 70% when 60% of walls are covered in Eden’s 64mm thick wall tiles.

With Banner you can achieve a quieter workplace. We know how to provide the furniture and accessory solutions that will guarantee the best results. For more details call our furniture team on 0845 230 8133 or email furniture@BannerUK.com


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