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How to Thrive in a Noisy Office

 
Source: 404 Tech Support

 

Noise in an office is a given, but when it gets out of control it can stifle creativity, reduce productivity, divert focus and limit privacy and security. Open plan offices are particularly susceptible to excessive noise, a once popular but increasingly questionable office layout. 

While you can’t always change the layout and design of your office, you can make a few changes to reduce noise and improve productivity. We’ve put together some tips and hacks to combat a noisy office, with some of our favourite product recommendations to let you get back to work. 


Source: Giphy

Before we dive in, let’s start with a cheat sheet for keeping office noise to a minimum:

  1. Respect the signals of your colleagues: headphones, a focused look or short answers to questions may indicate you need to respect particular boundaries.

  2. Keep it down: avoid loud conversations in working areas, particularly where professional phone calls are made.

  3. Be aware of loud calls: try not to talk too loudly during calls, and avoid personal phone calls in busy areas all together.

  4. Take conversations to breakout rooms: clearly demarcate office spaces and make clear which areas are for open chats.

 
Source: SlideShare

 

So, Why Are Offices so Noisy?

Most of us have experienced a noisy workplace, and this may be caused by a range of factors, including: 

  • An open-plan office design
  • Hard surfaces and surroundings that amplify noise 
  • Phone calls and meetings in populated areas
  • Loud members of staff who often speak in work areas
  • Environmental and outdoor sounds like crowds, traffic and even birds 
  • Employees working in close proximity to one another

  • A lack of room soundproofing or soundproofing walls 

We’ve all been there. You’re trying to get some important work done, and your mind keeps getting distracted by conversations and noise around you. Perhaps someone next to you loves small talk and never misses an opportunity to share their observations with you. Whatever it is, it’s certainly one thing: frustrating.

 
Source: Office Stace

 

Growing research around the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on work has made clear the new challenges we’re now facing, including the noise of the office being replaced by the noise at home. For some, wherever they go, they find it difficult to focus. 

In the office at least, there’s one type of layout that seems to stand out.

The Blessing and Curse of the Open-plan Office

Open-plan offices unite us in the same place but also divide us: some love them, some hate them. 

Open-plan offices are fantastic for more spontaneous discussions, problem-solving and innovations, with a Yahoo executive stating that, ‘some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions.’

But the dark side leaves many of us unable to focus, regularly distracted, and often find us being pulled away from important tasks.


Source: Dilbert

 

Jon Fredrik Baksaas, the CEO of the Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor, credits the design of the company’s Oslo headquarters with helping it shift from a state-run monopoly to a competitive multinational carrier with 150 million subscribers. That design, he says, improved communication, accelerated decision making, and even created what he calls “an attacking mind-set.”
Source: Harvard Business Review 

While we know collaboration often flourishes in open-plan settings, other types of work can suffer. Ollie Campbell, CEO of Milanote, describes:

In most workplaces, focused work is left to chance. If nobody’s called you for a meeting that day, you might get an afternoon to yourself...If you need to focus, ‘work’ is pretty much the worst place you could be.
Source: RescueTime


Source: SlideShare

 

How to Indicate You’re Busy

If you’re stuck in a loud open-plan office, there are ways to stay focused and limit the distractions around you by:

  • Sending a message or email to your teammates, letting them know you’ll be focused on something for a period of time, and would prefer not to be bothered unless it’s important

  • Asking those sitting closest to you to focus on noise reduction where possible
  • Booking a meeting room and working from there, where possible
  • Setting up an automatic email response that states you won’t be responding to emails until later in the day
  • Setting your chat channels to ‘do not disturb’ 
  • Using headphones to indicate you’re working on something important (more on this later)

 

 

The Flexible Workplace

Like the open-plan office, the Flexible Workplace has pros and cons. The major drawcard of working from home is the absence of loud colleagues and distractions (though there can be distractions of another kind).

Other advantages include:

  • Flexibility, particularly when it comes to factors like school drop off and medical appointments

  • Comfort, if you have the right ergonomic workstation 

  • The ability to focus 

  • A personalised set-up, with the deskchair and electronics of your choice 


(Though some people miss working in an office so much, they’ve been driven to listen to ‘
fake office noise.’) 

One study that tracked the effectiveness of employees who worked from home found:

 ...a highly significant 13% increase in employee performance from WFH, of which about 9% was from employees working more minutes of their period (fewer breaks and sick days) and about 4% from higher performance per minute. We found no negative spillovers onto workers who stayed in the office. Home workers also reported substantially higher work satisfaction and psychological attitude scores, and their job attrition rates fell by over 50%.
Source: Stanford


Source: Lighthouse

 

However, there is a trade-off. There may be higher rates of creativity in the office, but working from home seems to be the place employees are most productive. On top of this, there’s also considerations like the presence bias, which can give in-house employees the benefit of their presence, and can leave those out of the office, out of the loop.

Some people report that working from home has actually increased their working hours, because the line between work and home life is blurred, while others are finding alternative places to get work done, including pay-by-the-minute booths.

Source: BBC News

 

The Cost Factor

In addition, having employees in an office costs the company more, so working from home can be a great money-saving move. While some of those costs, such as electricity, are passed on to employees, they in turn save money and time when it comes to areas like travel. 

The solution? A little of both, perhaps.

In 2020, Google made the decision that employees wouldn’t be returning to the office until September 2021, and would be testing a ‘flexible workweek’. This means that they’ll spend three days in the office and the rest of the time working at home, with the office days being referred to as ‘collaboration days’.

This gives employees the best of both worlds: the benefit of collaboration and connection, and the space to focus on deep work. 

Source: Freepik 

 

The Introvert’s Nightmare 

For introverts or those who prefer working in quiet spaces, the post-pandemic return to office work may be daunting. Office work often involves lots of small talk, socialising and the pressure to connect with the team outside of office hours. While extroverts may love this type of setting, introverts can struggle and feel overwhelmed. 

introverts
Source: The Washington Post

 

The Right Set-up

Noise may be getting out of control in your office for many reasons. Spontaneous conversations, creative brainstorming and team problem solving can be incredibly valuable, and noise of this nature should be redirected, not stifled. As such, casual breakout spaces and informal meeting settings are a fantastic way to encourage the right kind of office conversations, in a less distracting environment. We recommend:

  • Adding a bar table with stools near groups of workstations, far enough away to limit noise but not so far as to deter a quick conversation, or to feel too formal to warrant leaving your desk 

  • Creating ‘collaboration zones’ with signs and comfortable lounges 

  • Catch-up areas, with high tables ready for stand-ups 

Some of our favourite pieces of furniture include:

 

Switch Collaborative Large Counter Table

Key Features:

  • Space for up to 14 desks
  • Smooth, laminate top 
  • Multiple sizes
  • 10 year warranty

Vibe Counter Panel Table

Key Features:

  • Ideal for impromptu catch-ups 
  • Strong and sturdy design 
  • Available in multiple colours
  • 10 year warranty

EZ Hospitality Sapphire - Tall Round Bar Counter Table

Key Features:

  • Black, powder-coated steel frame 
  • Optional tabletops available 
  • Available in multiple sizes and colours
  • 1 year warranty

 

Switch Counter High

Key Features:

  • Stylish and modern design, suitable for impromptu chats
  • Aluminium powder-coated steel frame
  • Available in multiple sizes and colours
  • 10 year warranty

Quadro A Legs Counter Table

Key Features:

  • Durable design, ideal for casual meetings 
  • Optional wheels for extra flexibility
  • Available in multiple sizes and colours
  • 10 year warranty

Blocking Out Sound

It might be confusing looking around the office and seeing others completely engrossed in their work, amidst noise so intense you can barely remember your name. However, noise can impact some people more severely than others.  

If you’re short on space or need a simple solution to noise or privacy issues, screens, dividers and even rope barriers are a great option. They can:

  • Block out sound during phone calls and meetings

  • Limit acoustics moving across workstations and the wider office

  • Create a safety barrier, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Offer privacy for important and confidential work

  • Offer a cheaper alternative to more expensive options like windows soundproof blinds

Free-standing screens are the right choice for many companies, because they can be easily moved around the office as needed. If you’re looking for an affordable and flexible option for a busy workplace, consider a screen of this kind.

Some of our favourite sound-controlling solutions include:

Sonic Free Standing Screen

Key Features:

  • Affordable partition and privacy screen 
  • PVC edging 
  • Pinnable surface 
  • Available in multiple sizes and colours
  • 5 year warranty 

 

Value Desk Hygiene Divider - Clear Perspex

Key Features:

  • Suitable to sit between people or can be added to the spine of a workstation 
  • Weather resistant 
  • Laser-polished round corners 
  • Available in multiple sizes
  • 2 year warranty 

 

Desk Mounted Privacy Screen 

Key Features:

  • Creates space between workspaces 
  • Designed with bonded foam to cancel noise 
  • Boards can be linked together
  • Available in multiple sizes and colours 
  • 5 year warranty

Vision Communication Room Divider

Key Features:

  • Large lockable wheels, magnetic pen shelf and flip chart hooks 
  • Available as a double partition with a magnetic whiteboard 
  • Available in two sizes 
  • 5 year warranty

Productify Activity Based Partition Screen

Key Features:

 

Wave - Freestanding Curve Office Screen Partition

Key Features:

  • Premium freestanding divider
  • Built with a powder-coated steel frame
  • Built-in magnets
  • 5 year warranty

Lean Echo Screen

Key Features:

  • Frosted perspex finish
  • Echo fabric 
  • Multiple colours available 
  • 5 year warranty 

 

Free Standing Floor Based Privacy Screen

Key Features:

  • Designed to provide distance and privacy 
  • A combination of fabric, perspex and aluminium 
  • Optional domed feet and mobile legs 
  • Multiple colours
  • 5 year warranty

Floor Based Privacy Screen

Key Features:

  • Made with a combination of fabric, perspex and aluminium 
  • Built to create distance and space whilst still allowing for collaboration
  • Multiple sizes and colours available
  • 5 year warranty 

Productify Activity Based Partition Screen

Key Features:

  • Creates privacy and divides up a space 
  • Fixed or castor legs
  • Multiple sizes available
  • 5 year warranty

 

Acoustic tiles can help limit noise, in a non-invasive and easy way. 

 

Vision SANA Acoustic 3D Tiles

Key Features:

  • Combats distractions and reduces noise
  • NRC rating 
  • Made with 100% polyester fibre and built strong
  • Multiple sizes and colours available 
  • 1 year warranty

Vision Peel N Stick Acoustic Noise Dampening Tiles

Key Features:

  • Limits noise and acoustics
  • Made with 100% polyester fibre and built strong
  • NRC rating
  • 1 year warranty

Signage can be used to indicate areas of quiet work or collaboration zones.

 

Vision Reusable Poster Frames

Key Features:

  • Effectively displays posters and signs for simple communication
  • Easy-to-change inserts
  • Multiple sizes available
  • 1 year warranty

 

If meeting rooms are limited or often booked out, try a meeting room booth. They’re sound-proof and perfect for small meetings and private conversations.

 

Meeting Room Booth Pro

Key Features:

  • High-quality, comfortable and suitable for long meetings
  • Sustainable, soundproof walls
  • Resistant to wear and tear
  • Multiple colours available 
  • 2 year warranty

Chatterbox - Acoustic Sound Proof Room and Phone Booth

Key Features:

  • Dimmable lighting
  • Dual speed bearing fan 
  • Sound proof 
  • Suitable for two people
  • Choose from multiple colours
  • 3 year warranty

 

Plush Room Booth

Key Features:

  • Sound insulation and privacy
  • Made with 100% breathable wool felt and recycled plastic 
  • Space for one person to make calls or work on a laptop
  • Charging station for devices 
  • Multiple colours available 
  • 2 year warranty

 

Plants

Plants are another excellent option for reducing noise for several reasons, including:

  • They’re low cost 
  • Artificial varieties require no maintenance, can live anywhere and don’t get damaged under direct sunlight
  • They add colour and freshness to a room
  • Real varieties have multiple health benefits 
  • They’re a stylish and modern decorating option

Music in the office

Source: Jason L

 

Arranging plants between workstations for a bright, fun and affordable sound barrier is a low-cost option that more and more businesses are trying.  

In fact, we created an infographic on how to create a greener office here.

Consider some of these for your office plants:

 

Brisk Bloom Vertical Garden

Key Features:

  • Stylish and fresh 
  • A more creative way to limit noise across your office 
  • Available in multiple colours 
  • 5 year warranty

 

Flora Artificial Ficus Tree

Key Features:

  • Bright and affordable
  • A stylish way to limit sound travelling across your space
  • Optional office pots available 
  • 1 year warranty

 

 

Planter Box

Key Features:

  • Softens and brightens spaces
  • An easy way to limit noise whilst creating a stylish interior 
  • Optional waterproof container
  • Multiple colours available 
  • 5 year warranty

 

Flora Artificial Bird of Paradise

Key Features:

  • Fresh, modern and eye-catching
  • Tall enough to help block out sound
  • Optional pots available  
  • 1 year warranty

 

 

Flora Artificial Fiddle Leaf Giant Tree

Key Features:

  • Eye-catching and modern
  • A bright way to limit office noise
  • Optional pots available
  • 1 year warranty

 

Flora Artificial Oriental Bamboo Tree

Key Features:

  • Crisp and stylish design 
  • Tall enough to help limit noise and acoustics
  • Optional pots available
  • 1 year warranty

 

Flora Artificial Raphis Palm

Key Features:

  • Stylish and available in multiple sizes
  • Tall and tropical design
  • Optional pots available 
  • 1 year warranty

 

Music

Music is popular with many office workers, who use it to drown out sound or assist with focus. In fact, some experts believe that listening to soothing sounds like birds singing can triple productivity in the office. The reverse is also true: working in a noisy space sees staff working at a third of their potential.

Research also shows that the type of music matters: while some music blocks out noise that’s distracting, other types help us learn and even help our brain induce ‘eureka moments.’

 

 

 

Source: Bloomberg 

 

There are certain situations where the noise of the office; whether it be chit-chat or essential sales calls, becomes too distracting. In these cases, sometimes the best solution is to invest in a good quality pair of headphones. 

(And some offices sound downright weird without music…)

 

Source: YouTube

 

Noise-cancelling headphones block out sound, and make it easier to focus and get things done. In addition, wearing headphones means focus music is just a few clicks away, so you can complete tasks with the help of a little aural aid. Finally, headphones make a clear statement to colleagues that you’re busy, focused and would like to stay that way. 

Buy the best noise-cancelling headphones here.

In some offices, ‘headphones on’ means that unless urgent, do not disturb. This can be a useful way for employees to clearly indicate whether they’re open to talk or not. The issue with this, however, is that it can lead to less teamwork and collaboration, particularly if certain employees spend all day every day with their headphones on.

 

Setting up rules around these systems is a good way to get the best of both worlds, like designating certain work as ‘focus work’ or times of day as ‘focus time.’ 

Looking for some extra reading? Check out our Music in the Office infographic.

Keep reading with our blog post of 100 Songs to Boost Your Productivity at Work

 

When it Gets too Much

 
Source: Giphy

Sometimes, no matter how many barriers, plants, breakout areas and playlists you have in place, your office is simply too noisy. 

If you’re desperate, try:

  • Switching to work that doesn’t require as much focus. This can be difficult if you have a deadline, but sometimes a simple rescheduling of tasks can make a difference.
  • Step outside for a minute and get some fresh air. This will give you a break and a moment to think in peace.
  • Take some deep breaths and try to focus in spite of the noise. 

 

Source: Business Insider Australia

 

But ultimately, communicating with your colleagues is the best way to create a working environment that’s productive and positive.

Talk to those in your working pod about what you need to be most effective at work, and ask for input as you brainstorm solutions to the problem of noise. By telling your colleagues how the sound around you diminishes your ability to complete tasks, they’ll most likely be more aware of their actions and try to support that. 


Source: Wanderlust Worker

 

Noise Can Be a Good Thing

A noisy office doesn’t have to sabotage your work. Diverting some of that energy to team activities like after-work drinks, team bonding through team sports and events, and even overnight retreats can help give your team the chance to connect with others in an appropriate setting.

Don’t let noise dictate how you work, make a few tweaks to your office set-up and get back to it! 


 

 

Sources

How to stay focused, productive and sane in a noisy open-plan office
ABC Everyday
https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/tips-for-focusing-being-productive-in-noisy-open-plan-office/10994336

Too loud to think? How the right noise can actually make you more productive at work
Agency Central
https://www.agencycentral.co.uk/articles/2016-10/ambient-noise-boosts-office-productivity.htm

Are pay-by-the-minute booths the future of work?
BBC News
https://www.bbc.com/news/business-56492376

Why office noise bothers some people more than others
BBC Worklife
https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20191115-office-noise-acceptable-levels-personality-type

How Music at the Office Affects Your Work Life
Bloomberg
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-11-08/how-music-at-the-office-affects-your-work-life

15 science-backed ways to stay focused all day
Business Insider Australia
https://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-to-stay-focused-2015-12

How a Noisy Office Can Affect Productivity
COS
https://www.cos.net.au/c/cospedia/noise-affects-productivity

Saturday April 29, 2017 Cubicles Or Open Office Plan
Dilbert
https://dilbert.com/strip/2017-04-29

These 6 Types of Music Are Known to Dramatically Improve Productivity
Entrepreneur
https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/325492

Flexibility in the Workplace
Fairwork
https://www.fairwork.gov.au/employee-entitlements/flexibility-in-the-workplace

Is A Blurred Work-Life Balance The New Normal?
Forbes
https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2020/05/11/is-a-blurred-work-life-balance-the-new-normal/?sh=dae465718130

Tips for working from home
Forbes Financial Planning
https://forbesfp.com.au/social/tips-for-working-from-home

Dealing with noise in the office
404 Tech Support
https://www.404techsupport.com/2015/10/25/dealing-noise-office/

WORK FROM HOME HIGHLIGHTS
Freepik
https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/information-advice-template-when-people-are-working-from-home-home-office-concept-watercolor-vector-illustration_8376783.htm

Anchorman GIF
Giphy
https://giphy.com/gifs/anchorman-loud-whqlS9qH34xwc

Workspaces That Move People
Harvard Business Review
https://hbr.org/2014/10/workspaces-that-move-people

Here’s What’s Standing In The Way Of Your Flexible Working Dreams
Huffington Post
https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/flexible-working-office-culture-the-future-of-the-office_uk_606dbb49c5b6034a70832c13

INFOGRAPHIC: MUSIC IN THE OFFICE
Jason L
https://www.jasonl.com.au/blogs/main/infographic-music-in-the-office

3 Crucial Keys to Helping Your Team Transition to Remote Work Effectively
Lighthouse
https://getlighthouse.com/blog/transition-to-remote-work-help-your-team/

12 Clever and Funny “Do Not Disturb” Door Sign Ideas For Office That Actually Work
Luxafor
https://luxafor.com/12-clever-and-funny-do-not-disturb-door-sign-ideas-for-office-that-actually-work/

The New Future of Work
Microsoft
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/project/the-new-future-of-work/

The Relationship Judge: The Loud, Inconsiderate Co-Worker
Office Stace
http://officestace.com/2012/11/the-relationship-judge-the-loud-inconsiderate-co-worker/

3 ways to deal with excessive office noise
RescueTime
https://blog.rescuetime.com/weekly-roundup-noisy-office/

Back to Nature: Curing Open Office Noise | Seattle Interactive 2017
SlideShare
https://www.slideshare.net/seattleinteractive/back-to-nature-curing-open-office-noise-seattle-interactive-2017

Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment
Stanford
https://nbloom.people.stanford.edu/sites/g/files/sbiybj4746/f/wfh.pdf

The best noise-cancelling headphones of 2021: our top ANC headphones for every budget
Tech Radar
https://www.techradar.com/au/news/audio/portable-audio/best-noise-cancelling-headphones-1280490

Active Noise Cancellation Headphones Market Analysis by Post COVID-19 Developments and Overview - 2025: Bose Corporation, Samsung, Sony Corporation, Sennheiser electronic GmbH & Co. KG, Apple Inc.

Our research shows working from home works, in moderations
The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/21/research-working-from-home

Google Delays Return to Office and Eyes ‘Flexible Work Week’
The New York Times
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/14/technology/google-delays-return-to-office-and-eyes-flexible-work-week.html

Meet the introverts who are dreading a return to normal
The Washington Post
https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/introverts-are-dreading-a-return-to-the-noise-crowds-and-small-talk-of-normal-life/2021/04/09/386006b0-987b-11eb-b28d-bfa7bb5cb2a5_story.html

Shirking from home
Vox
https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/21317485/work-from-home-coronavirus-covid-19-zoom-distraction-animal-crossing

8 Ways to Stay Focused on Your Goals
Wanderlust Worker
https://www.wanderlustworker.com/8-ways-to-stay-focused-on-your-goals/

Is a noisy office ever a good thing?
Yahoo Finance
https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/is-a-noisy-office-ever-a-good-thing-050016122.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAMOE2AONlXAeug4ZiLs0YTLqHW-u5avSvsUp_qH-zZKOWOIYnfqqjUSE8K8c9LaK57-0euCBGiE_lAdfPeoqhoxoXLnybFMiE5sHkFwwwflQgsgFNd5pfwynp15V9vu6oTpx2ocoWD1ipzwtwv_fVy-PaZhc5Yj-I6nKvMVKU7Bt

The Office Intro Without Music (Season 2) - The Office
YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dna47CTYD3s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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