Background Noise in Modern Workplaces Cost Productivity


Absorb sound with furnishings and materials
High-performing acoustic ceiling tiles and baffles are primary tools in the fight against bad workplace acoustics. Sound can also be absorbed by a range of intriguing materials, such as mobile storage cabinets made with pressed felt that absorbs sound across a wide range of frequencies. Sound-reducing paint is a fairly simple way to mitigate mid-range frequency sound, albeit not a complete noise-proofing solution.

Block sound with physical barriers
It sounds simple, but walls, panels and doors can do wonders for a noise problem. For example, simply keeping appliances and machinery in one central room enables you to close the door on an array of sounds. Thick glass partitions can be used to block sound without creating an enclosed environment.

“Glass-enclosed space helps employees retreat from noise, while still gaining inspiration from open sight lines that promote productivity,” comments Boucher. “Glass exposures can help create the perception that ‘this workplace is buzzing with ideas”—without the actual auditory buzz permeating the entire office.”

Mask sound with ambient noise
Too much silence can be as distracting as excessive noise. Adding soft, non-cognitive white noise is a fairly cost-effective way to create ideal workplace acoustics. Set to 50 or 60 decibels and distributed evenly across the office, a uniform background noise—like the sound of a gentle wind—can reduce anxiety and keep workers from feeling self-conscious about, say, making a phone call or sneezing.

Whatever methods companies adopt to control sound, doling out headphones is not the solution. While these may block out noise, they also block opportunities for employees to connect, collaborate, or to learn what’s new in the organization, warns a Harvard Business Review article about the potentially negative impact of headphones on workplace community.

That said, effective sound management is a question of opportunity: With so many effective noise-management tools, why stop at simply shutting out noise? Rather, orchestrate a sound, office sound strategy.


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