Offices don’t just have an aesthetic impact on us: we are also influenced by how we sense sound, touch and smell at work.
Together, the perception of all these senses help or hinder our ability to focus and concentrate. And this is particularly true of sound in the workplace.
Everyone has had the unhappy experience of trying to get something important done when colleagues are making a lot of noise.
Loud noise has definitely become one of the greatest irritants at work.
Studies by architecture firm Perkins & Will showed how important workplace acoustics are to performance and satisfaction, and that good acoustic design equals good business.
In 2016 it showed statistically significant changes in creativity scores associated with different acoustic conditions.
Workers reported that they were more creative when office noise was masked “white” noise. A 2005 study on office noise and employee concentration by Banbury and Berry, showed that 99% of employees reported that their concentration was impaired by various types of office noise, especially telephones left ringing at vacant desks and people talking in the background.
Interestingly researchers also found no evidence that people become used to these sounds over time. So people don’t just get accustomed to noisy offices, they are consistently bothered. And in extreme cases it can cause them to resign.
According to another study by Witterseh et al on the effects of noise distraction in the workplace, 68% of those surveyed become frustrated when sound levels creep just above normal conversation, and they also reported increased fatigue and difficulty in concentrating.
Often the reason why background sound distracts us is because we try to work out which sound to focus on, and what sounds to ignore. If nearby speech is not relevant to your team or your work, it becomes even more distracting.
To increase concentration and in the workplace, companies should pay as much attention to acoustics in the office as they do aesthetics to create a productive workspace and keep employees happy.
For example, introducing white noise in all areas will mask all conversations, so it needs to be applied strategically. Office spaces that have variety of individual, small group, and collegial areas can help the issue, especially when un-assigned seating is enforced so individuals can choose where they wanted to work according to their chaning attentional needs.
Increasing numbers of South Africa companies are also installing sound proof booths so people can make calls without disturbing others.
Today there are many advanced, affordable products to be used in placing acoustics in the office such as light fittings, suspended ceilings, wall coverings and office furniture. Using materials that absorb sound is key. Carpeting, screens or walls covered in fabric, acoustical panels or drop ceilings with acoustical tiles can help neutralise sound issues.
Linda Trim is the Director at workplace specialists Giant Leap.