Noise pollution is defined as any unwanted or bothersome sound. In the workplace, this can range from ringing phones, typing and mouse clicking, to noisy HVAC and office equipment. However, research has shown that the most invasive form of noise pollution on today’s office worker is other employees voices and the conversations going on around them.
In an open-office plan, workers can be distracted those talking around them, leading to reduced productivity. Noise can range from 60 to 65 decibels in some open office settings. Research recommends that 55 decibels is essential for complex creative thinking, problem solving, and decision-making work. Controlling sound within an acceptable level of tolerance is vital to supporting employee productivity.
Although often seen as just an annoyance, noise pollution can pose a real risk to worker’s health. Lab studies involving both humans and animals have revealed that noise exposure stimulates the nervous system and raises blood pressure triggering the release of stress hormones. Continued daily exposure can stress the cardiovascular system and result in anger and exhaustion.
Although controversial, the open office plan appears to be here to stay. So, what can be done to mitigate the impact of noise pollution on workers and their productivity?
Designing floorplans that integrate dedicated, acoustically controlled focus rooms can provide workers with a space to retreat to for a few hours to complete heads down work. These dedicated spaces reduce the number of interruptions and distractions workers typically face while at their workstations.
For employers looking for a more flexible solution, soundproof phone booths or meeting pods can be interspersed into an existing open office layout. With these pods, workers can join zoom meetings or collaborate in person with their team, without disrupting colleagues around them.
Incorporating ceiling baffles within the open office offers acoustical control and sound isolation. The addition of hanging acoustical panels provides acoustical absorption and reduces sound transmission, while providing a sense of privacy.
By integrating a variety of solutions, noise pollution in an open office plan can be reduced to reasonable levels, supporting worker’s overall productivity and health.