Modern offices have a noise problem, and it’s hurting businesses more than they know. Here’s how to solve it.

The workplace today looks a lot different than it did only ten or twenty years ago. Whereas the typical office was once characterized by cubical farms, today’s offices are sleek, airy, and open. The rise of the open office has been pervasive—more than 70% of American offices today utilize open floor plans, and other unconventional designs such as agile workspaces are increasingly common. While these forward-thinking layouts have many advantages, they also have their drawbacks, one of which is excess noise.

Large, open spaces facilitate collaboration, boost employee morale, and are aesthetically pleasing. They also act as voice-amplifying echo chambers and eliminate speech privacy. Add in hard, sound-reflecting surfaces like easy-to-clean cement floors and light-inviting windows, and you have a big, open room that bounces every voice and keyboard click around it like a million pinballs, wreaking havoc on productivity and employee morale.

One needn’t sacrifice the best aspects of an open office in order to reduce noise distractions. There are several products and techniques, both old and new, that can offset distracting noise and increase speech privacy. Below, we’ll talk about how noise can hamper an office, and how to combat it.

The Harm that a Noisy Workplace Can Do

There are a number of ways in which excess noise can reduce productivity and chip away at employee morale. Here are some of the most common ones.

  • Noise Causes Stress

Anyone who’s ever tried to focus in a noisy environment knows that the distraction can be frustrating and unpleasant. A study from the University of Sydney found that half of all open office employees report being stressed out by ambient noise in the workplace. In fact, workers cite noise as a source of workplace stress more than any other factor, including temperature, cleanliness and air quality.

These stressors aren’t merely a nuisance or minor frustration. Studies by the National Institutes of Health have shown that noise-related stress can cause a number of physiological symptoms, including elevated blood pressure and heart rate and increased stress hormones.

All these factors combine to make for an unpleasant work environment for employees, which in turn can lead to decreased productivity, as well as a loss of talent.

  • Distractions hurt productivity

Employee productivity and noise in office workspace

Have you ever been at a busy cafe and found that you couldn’t focus on your work or reading because you couldn’t help listening to the conversations around you? We don’t mean to eavesdrop—we don’t even want to—but there’s something in the human brain that compels us to listen to what other people are saying when we can hear it. And when we do, we neglect the task at hand.

A study by Steelcase and Ipsos found that offices lose as much as 86 minutes per day due to noise distractions. The time we spend trying to ignore the noise around us adds up!

  • A lack of speech privacy affects business decisions

It’s not just hearers who are affected by a noisy office. Employees who know that their conversations can be overheard are less likely to speak candidly to colleagues, and generally feel exposed in the workplace. This lack of privacy can affect productivity, rapport and morale.

  • Noise distractions compel talent to check out

Many employees will try to counteract a noisy environment by using earbuds or headphones. Not only can the overuse of these devices cause ear and hearing damage over time, it can erode productivity and morale by isolating these individuals and making them seem less accessible to their colleagues.

These are just a few of the problems caused by a noisy office. But is there a way to reduce noise in the workplace without reverting to the grim, closed-off offices of the past?

The Solution: Speech Privacy Systems and Noise Reduction Furnishings

Sound masking and speech privacy office furniture
As it happens, there are a variety of innovative solutions to noise interference in the workplace. Devices that both muffle noise and mask it have had tremendous success in open office environments.

  • Noise reduction solutions

Much of the problem in open office settings is the unabated space and the hard surfaces that reflect sound. That tyrannical cube that offices have begun to move away from had its advantages in that its fabric walls reduced noise pollution. Similar fixes are available for more progressive offices. From aesthetic carpeting to noise-absorbent sound panels, there are many convenient options for reducing noise in the office.

  • Speech privacy systems

As we noted earlier, the problem isn’t simply ambient noise, but distinct conversations that distract eavesdroppers and leave employees feeling exposed. It may seem counter-intuitive, but machines that play low-level white noise over high-quality speakers can actually increase employee productivity and morale by masking human speech. A recent development, these systems have become commonplace in many open and agile offices.

The Benefits of Noise Reduction and Speech Privacy

Acoustic Privacy Office Desk Sound Panels and Dividers
Companies on the cutting edge who wish to maintain productivity and talent retention have found that a few simple additions to their office can have an enormous positive effect at the workplace. Here are some.

Better focus

Employees who aren’t burdened with their colleagues’ conversations are less distracted, more focused on their work and happier in their jobs.

  • Reduced distractions

When staff can concentrate on the task at hand, they’re less likely to make costly errors, and more likely to make the most out of their time.

  • Reduced stress

Your employees want to do a good job. When noise distraction prevents them from doing so, they experience higher stress levels. A quieter workplace means increased morale, which means better talent retention.

Noise Reduction and Speech Privacy are Crucial to Every Office

Privacy Speech System white noise office furniture dealer

A quiet office is a productive office. It’s a happy office. That’s why Joyce Contract Interiors has partnered with Privacy Speech Systems and Cambridge Sound System, leading companies in sound masking, specializing in localized white noise generation in commercial spaces. We can also help with solutions such as sound panels and other noise-reducing furnishings. Don’t let a noisy office keep you from reaching your goals!