Stephanie Dwilson

Noise Reduction: Mitigating Office Noise Pollution

Why does the office always seem to get louder the more you need to focus?

It’s not just you — offices are noisy places, especially with the rise of shared and open plan office environments. Whether your workplace is plagued with high-pitched computer notifications, constant office chatter or eardrum-piercing construction work, noise pollution can hinder employees’ concentration and harm their long-term health.

Here’s a look at why noise pollution is such a big problem today and what noise reduction strategies you can follow to help your office finally find its inside voice.

Why Offices Have Noise Pollution

Unfortunately, your employees can’t just put on some headphones and ignore the hubbub. People who work in loud environments may be more susceptible to high blood pressure, heart disease and various cognitive issues — not to mention plenty of stress. In extreme cases, overexposure to loud noises can even lead employees to develop hyperacusis, which leaves them extremely sensitive to noise.

But even if the noise from an open office doesn’t seem earsplitting, it can still have damaging effects. Moderate office noise levels can cause hearing damage if sustained for a long enough time. Constant distractions, even minor ones, can kill productivity, decrease morale and increase the blood pressure of anyone working nearby.

A 2018 survey reported that more than half of office workers are distracted by office noise. In fact, research has found that noise levels in open office spaces can get so bad, 75% of employees need to take walks to stay focused. Just 1% said they were able to block out distractions immediately — for the rest, the noisier an office is, the more likely employees are to leave a business in six months.

Noise Reduction Strategies

Even if your business has an open office plan in which seemingly every sound reverberates throughout the entire space, don’t lose hope just yet. There are ways to help employees feel focused, productive and healthy throughout the day.

To start, have the team reach an agreement on noise norms and etiquette. Maybe a quick chat is fine, for instance, but longer conversations and phone calls should be moved outside or into a conference room. Encourage employees to consider using noise-canceling headphones to help them concentrate, and set up white noise machines or fans in strategic (read: loud) locations. Even plants can help reduce noise and absorb sound. Businesses can also set up “concentration stations” or dedicated quiet rooms where noise levels are always at a minimum.

In a worst-case scenario, a business might need to do a little remodeling to reduce noise pollution. Simple fixes such as adding noise-absorbing panels, rearranging desks and installing portable cubicles can make the daily din a little more manageable. If that’s not possible, consider letting employees work remotely two to three days a week — or think about moving spaces altogether.

The best ideas often come to us in the shower or during a relaxing drive — that is, in moments of quiet. Finding the right noise reduction techniques makes all the difference in ensuring your employees feel great on and off the job.

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