Are company offices the ideal place to get work done? A new study on workplace acoustics suggests that the answer is no. The research—which was commissioned by Interface, Inc. and included the perspective of more than 2,000 adult workers in the United States, UK, and Australia—revealed just how much employees’ concentration levels, productivity, and creativity are being affected by office noise.

Office Noise Negatively Impacts Workers

The data shows that nearly 70% of global employees feel negatively impacted by office noise, which has led a double-digit percentage (16%) to choose to work remotely in order to distance themselves physically from these unsolved noise problems. As the study summarizes: “The survey results indicate that office-based workers are mentally impacted by noise, therefore, not working to their full potential—they report distraction, difficulty concentrating, and heightened stress. For most, working in this state lowers creativity and focus.”

Top Office Noise Distractions

Just what are the top distractions for office-bound workers? They include some of the obvious culprits and complaints, which anyone who has ever worked in a company office (especially if they’re part of an open floor plan or cubicle farm, or stationed near the ubiquitous water cooler) can no doubt relate to:

  • Conversations and chitchat among employees
  • Phone conversations
  • Phones ringing
  • People walking around

The 2019 Workplace Acoustics Study also found that noisy offices cause increased levels of stress and anxiety for those who experience them—no surprise when you think about how hard it can be to work amidst a chaotic cacophony of interruptions. This situation has negative repercussions for employers as well as workers. Half of the employees surveyed stated that noise levels are a factor that impacts their decision whether to take a job or leave it, which means that companies need to carefully consider their approach to workplace noise level and make it a critical part of their recruitment and retention strategy.

Companies Must Recognize That Office Noise Can Be a Problem

Yet despite the importance of acoustics on employees’ experience of their workplace and their ability to focus, the study also shows that many companies are not prioritizing this issue. Forty-four percent of respondents stated that their organization is not taking any action to manage the noise problems. One obvious issue highlighted by the study is that around a third of workers surveyed are indeed seated by their manager in an open-office setting—yet around two-thirds of companies fail to provide a designated “quiet area” or private space to focus on work or have discussions that aren’t heard by everyone nearby.

Being able to communicate face-to-face in the same space has its collaborative benefits for teams—but clearly, based on this study, it also has its drawbacks. By virtue of having tens or hundreds of employees gathered together under the same roof, there’s no denying that many office environments tend to be loud and disruptive by nature.

How to Solve the Office Noise Problem

Since on-site collaboration has a role to play in creativity, the goal for employers should be to find a way that such discussions can take place while still providing accommodations for workers who understandably need peace and quiet in order to concentrate and do their jobs well. Providing focus rooms and other “retreat” areas with doors can go a long way in giving people what they need to avoid the peripheral noise of those working around them.

As the study shows, acoustic problems are leading a sizable number of employees to seek remote working arrangements as an alternative to the din of the office environment. When receiving staff requests to work from home or otherwise go remote, forward-thinking employers will green-light these asks, so that companies and individuals alike can benefit from workers’ improved ability to think and innovate in a quieter setting offsite.

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