Image by Coart by dTank
Loud conversations between colleagues, phone calls, printers, photocopiers, the hum of the air conditioning, loud ringtones and even keyboard clicks – the office can be an extremely noisy environment.
In fact, as we have moved to open plan offices the workplace has got louder
This can be hugely distracting, causing productivity to plummet. Research has shown that workers can be 66 per cent less productive when exposed to just one conversation.
Another study has revealed that office workers are losing 86 minutes a day because of these distractions.
The impact however can be far more damaging than a missed deadline.
Noisy workplaces can also increase stress levels which in turn increases absenteeism. According to HR Review UK, workers in open-plan offices take 70 per cent more sick leave.
And of course, all of this has an economic impact. The World Health Organisation estimates that the annual cost to Europe from excessive noise levels, in terms of lost working days, healthcare costs and reduced productivity, is £30 billion.
So what can we do about this?
Despite all these challenges, reducing the number of walls and adopting an open plan office does not have to cause a detrimental increase in noise.
Every single surface either absorbs or reflects sounds as it travels through a space and a lot of noise pollution can come from the floors in our workplaces.
Natural wood and ceramics, while aesthetically stunning, are not good for absorbing noise. Whilst vinyl floors and carpet can make a noticeable difference.
Similarly, acoustic wall tiles can play an important role, absorbing sounds rather than reflecting them and modern versions are stylish and aesthetically pleasing. Suspended acoustic ceiling panels can also be strategically placed to target noisy areas and can make a great visual impact.
Offering dedicated areas for collaborative working is also crucial. Breakout areas offer places for informal meetings and phone calls away from where other people are working. High-backed sofas and comfy seats will not only separate these areas from the rest of the office, but they will also absorb sound.
Alternatively, dedicated quiet spaces, sometimes in the form of enclosed pods, can provide employees with some sanctuary and enable them to get on with their work without interruption.
Green, or living, walls in offices have a number of benefits. They look stunning, can help to improve air quality and provide an extra layer of insulation – helping to cut down on energy loss and decreasing heating and cooling requirement.
But a lesser-known benefit is that plants and living walls can also improve the acoustics in an office. The stems, leaves, branches and wood absorb sound; rough bark and thick, fleshy leaves are particularly effective.
Moss walls offer a lower maintenance alternative to living walls, and are equally great at absorbing sound.
Some studies have shown that plants can reduce ambient noises in offices by as much as five decibels.
Silence may not be golden in the modern workplace, but there are so many creative methods that can be implemented to ensure your team can focus when they need to, and socialise when they don’t.