3 Questions to Ask About Office Noise

Open offices make up 70% of our work environments, filling our workspaces with distractions including nearby meetings and watercooler chatter. While these open spaces are great for in-person collaboration, noise can be a hindrance to productivity. Workers who enjoy the perks of flexible work arrangements haven't escaped the noise, either. Instead of listening to a noisy coworker, they're subject to the buzz of the neighbors' lawnmower, family interruptions, or even a barista taking orders.

Given that productivity can fall 66% due to distracting sounds, bringing the "right" noise into our workspaces is crucial to boosting productivity. Get started by asking yourself these three questions.

  1. Where's the "bad" noise coming from? Obvious sources of bad noise include the coworker who enjoys crunchy snacks and the nearby clunky printer, but even footsteps and squeaky floorboards can disrupt your concentration.

    You may think you've mastered the art of drowning these bad noises out -- but they can have a surprising and real effect on your ability to produce results. Research indicates that it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus once you're pulled away from a task, which can add up to hours or even days of lost productivity over the course of a year. Instead of jeopardizing your productivity, write down where the bad noise comes from and move onto the next question.

  2. How can I minimize the bad noise? With your list of bad noises in hand, brainstorm quick solutions that physically separate you from the source. For instance, consider relocating to a desk further from the printer, or turn off notifications and use a busy signal when you're on a deadline.

    When these quick fixes aren't an option, consider communication tools with noise-cancelling features, such as headsets that offer passive and/or active noise cancellation technologies. Active noise cancellation is perfect for blocking constant, ambient noise, such as the churning of a printer, as it generates anti-noise that cancels out these sounds. Passive noise cancellation, a result of headsets' physical features, is great for filtering out irregular, high-frequency sounds, including office chatter and nearby meetings.

    When choosing a solution that minimizes bad noise, ensure that it also has a noise-cancelling microphone. The distractions in your work space can be detrimental to the productivity of your call and result in repeat questions, difficulty understanding the person you're talking to, and an overall bad experience. To note, data suggests that 89% of customers will leave for a competitor after a negative customer service experience, so stopping noises from disturbing your calls before they start is important.

  3. How can I crank up the good noise? Once you've minimized the bad noise, learn how to crank up the good noise. Consider injecting a bit of nature, such as recordings of bird songs, into your day. Some experts believe these noises reassure humans that our environment is safe, while others think the combination of sounds causes us to focus on the task at hand rather than on background noise.

    If you're more of a music person, select different styles based on the task at hand. For example, if you're processing data, up-tempo (100+ bpm) music will boost your performance, while emotionally-charged music is best when you need a burst of creative inspiration. No matter what good noise or music you choose, though, selecting the kind that complements the tasks you need to tackle is imperative to mastering productivity.

Increasing productivity isn't easy when distractions plague the workday, whether they're in a traditional office building or in your home. With the right noise, though, you can jump back into projects with increased focus. Ask yourself where bad noise is coming from, how you can minimize it, and how you can crank up good noise to stay at the top of your productivity game.