In a busy office, excessive levels of noise are continually blamed for causing distractions and a resultant drop in productivity, especially in an open-plan environment; in fact we’ve touched upon the subject ourselves in the past. However could it actually be that a little bit of noise, kept to moderate levels, may in fact prove beneficial to the workforce and company as a whole?

If you think about it, when are you most likely to pick up on a conversation taking place at the next desk or even in the next office – when the room is silent, or when the sound may be hidden by existing background noise? Constant, subtle sounds are in themselves far less distracting than sudden ones as we become accustomed to their presence and essentially block them out, as we do when reading on a train or bus to give just one example.

City AM refers to this ambient noise as an “acoustic soup”, used to absorb outside noises that may otherwise prove distracting to employees. The problem is not decibels, but the distracting clarity of discernible speech.

This assertion ties in with previous research which found that when it comes to distracting noises in the workplace, it is context, attitude, perceived control, predictability, and personality type, rather than volume, that lead to interruptions to the thought process and/or working day. The sound of typing, for example, will cause minimal distraction, as it is both expected in an office environment and tends to be rather constant. A sudden yelp of frustration from a colleague on the other hand will drag your mind away from its current task in a much more detrimental fashion.

So while excessive noise should of course be avoided (acoustic baffles, soft furniture, and sound-absorbing ceilings provide an excellent way to do just that) insisting upon silence may not in fact be the best approach, and is sure to also contribute to a downturn in happiness among the workforce.


Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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