In a time where open-plan offices are still very much in play in many workplaces, audible noise is the most obvious issue in open-plan spaces, with conversation and the noise of devices like printers and copiers. Visual noise however isn’t so obvious; it’s starting to be recognised as an issue affecting employees’ productivity.

In a workspace where lots of people are in your field of vision – moving, typing, talking etc. – visual noise can take your eyes away from your screen, disrupting your work. Wondering where someone is going, who they’re talking about, why they keep leaving their desk etc. can really take your mind away from the task at hand; your to-do list.

Research shows that “activity or movement around the edges of an employee’s field of vision, can erode concentration and disrupt analytical thinking or creativity”, as The Wall Street Journal reports.

San Francisco firm Segment took the problem of visual noise as a serious one, as the WSJ continues, designing their offices in a style comparable to a labyrinth. The use of corners, spaced-out workers and greenery as partitions are among their actions to reduce visual noise for employees.

While we’ve already outlined the benefits of greenery in the office, they also add to stylish interior design and absorb some audible noise, and CEO of Segment Peter Reinhardt describes their newly designed office as “almost like a jungle.”

Visual noise can also be dependent on who is in your peripheral vision while sat at your desk.  Ethan Bernstein, an assistant professor of leadership and organisational behaviour at Harvard Business School, found teams were 10-15% more productive when separated from supervisors by a curtain. A bosses’ constant gaze when working can be off-putting or cause anxiety within employees, and so an enclosed workspace away from them proved effective.

Visual noise (as well as audible noise) is likely the reason why many modern offices are opting for the partially-enclosed office layout as opposed to fully open-plan, as a way to suit those who find noise and too much company distracting.

Approaches like offering alternative small work-spaces in the form of ‘pods’ or separate rooms give choice and variety to suit all working preferences amongst a workforce of employees.

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our content writer intern.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry with an English A -Level and love of writing about anything and everything in tow.
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