Background noise is and always will be a bone of contention simply because ‘noise’ means different things to different people. Some research will reveal that background noise at the office is distracting and leads to decreased productivity, while other research claims that background noise can improve concentration and productivity.
There is no right or wrong unfortunately simply because each working environment is unique and people perceive noise differently. The best thing to do is to ensure that noise levels are balanced and considerate and that blatantly obtrusive noise levels are eliminated.
Some background noise is unavoidable:
The general background noise of any office is dictated by what happens in that office. For example, a sales office is by nature full of buzz, ringing phones and constant talking. A specialist space is by nature more quiet with far less talking. People choose vocations that suit their personality, so where one will thrive, another will become stressed and agitated.
It all comes down to employees’ ability to multitask. People who are involved with specialist type tasks want to focus and tend to be easily distracted by background noise. People who are multitaskers often thrive on background noise to keep them motivated.
That is why no business can create a uniform level of background noise if they want to keep their employees happy and productive. Expecting employees with widely varying personality traits and job functions to adapt to a uniform environment is a recipe for high staff turnover and poor employee retention.
Issuing general instructions like being respectful of others, keep phone volumes low, and keep the chatter down are extremely demotivating for some people, while others would welcome these rules with open arms. But all businesses need people with different skills and personality traits to get the different jobs that ensure business success done.
Then there is noise pollution! The loud, obtrusive background noise that is beyond anyone’s control. Depending on a business’s location, there could be excessive road traffic, air traffic, or noisy production plants. Office design can play a big role in eliminating the negative effects of noise pollution.
Where is the middle ground?
A healthy working environment is one where employees are happy and enjoy working together, no matter what their personality. Sound is highly stimulating, and that is what makes background noise an issue between people. To keep productivity high, each office area must be approached differently, and the subject of background noise in the office should be open to regular discussion among all employees.
What about music?
Music is background noise, and there is no doubt that music has a definite effect on people. The type of music people listen to can also be either discouraging or uplifting. Having music in an office is not an easy decision. Again, research shows that happy and upbeat music promotes productivity, creativity and resourcefulness in the working environment, but the reality is that this does not apply to everyone.
One undisputed benefit music brings to any working environment is that it mutes most other background noise, allowing for a single, identifiable stream of noise rather than a cacophony of different noises. Most employees would agree that this is less stressful.
But then some staff like classical music, others rock and others jazz, so where is the middle ground that will keep everyone happy. If an office employs more than a handful of people there is no middle ground when it comes to music genres.
Opting for streaming a radio station that plays a variety of music interspersed with news bulletins is the best option. Because employees know that the music will be varied and that there are also bulletins that offer interesting information, they will be less inclined to become fixated on the radio as they would if the same music genre is played day in and day out. There is a common misconception that songs with words and talking on the radio will distract employees, but that is not the case. When a radio plays constantly people soon accept it as background noise and virtually switch off to the sound. Now and then there will be something that draws attention, but after listening for a few minutes, people automatically switch focus and switch off from the radio again.
Dealing effectively with background noise and keeping all employees happy is not an easy task, but with some careful thought and planning businesses can ensure that their employees can find a middle ground.
Office furniture, planning and design all play a part in managing background noise effectively. If your business is unable to find the elusive middle ground, why not contact All Office and speak to a specialist consultant today?