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The Impact of Noisy Offices

Over the decades, many working environments have moved from segmented, departmental office spaces towards more open plan, collaborative spaces. There are a range of reasons for the move to open plan working and for call centres or large groups taking calls, it makes perfect sense.

But are there consequences of the open plan office and if so, what can be done to mitigate any negative effects? Hint: Getting the right telephone headset is a good starting point.

The Hum of Busy Colleagues

No matter where you work, noise exists, it’s a by-product of working life in any workplace regardless of whether you fix cars or run a sales team.

The problem with noise in an open plan workplace however, is that noise doesn’t really have anywhere to go, sound waves bounce from hard surface to hard surface creating that low level background hum which never seems to go anywhere.

According to research by SteelCase[1], noise ranges from 60 to 65 decibels in a typical office which can impact the performance of staff in the vicinity. Further reinforcing this insight, the German Association of Engineers suggest that more complex, intellectual work requires noise levels of no more than 50-55db.

Sources of Office Noise

From call centres, to sales teams, customer service and beyond, busy offices create noise from all sorts of activities.

Taking a moment to consider the sources of noise, we may naturally be drawn to the mechanical noise we hear from office equipment such as photocopiers, the clacking of keyboards or the ring from a desk phone or softphone. We also need to consider the more natural contributions to office noise, conversations and office chatter or environmental noise outside are all sources of noise which all contribute.

How Noise Impacts Workers

Most of us probably don’t take much time to really consider the impact of noise in the office, instead we and our teams arrive, complete our work, and leave to get the best work-life balance.

The reality is though, that this low level noise impacts those working through it in a number of ways:

  • Mental health
  • Physical health
  • Concentration
  • Communication

Research by The Conversation[2] found that even short periods of exposure to low level noise can result in a 25% increase in negative mood and a 34% increase in sweat response. A Cornell University study[3] also found increases in hormonal stress indicators during their multimodal study in 2000 in addition to participants reporting noise more frequently.

Participants also adjusted their posture or workstation environment almost 50% less often, the study suggests this can lead to increased physical health impacts and as we recently discussed in our news piece about the impact of headsets on sales, poor health can cost you sales.

Headsets Can Help

While we’d all love to be able to make our workplaces the epitome of calm, the reality is that some noise will always exist. It’s therefore sensible to consider the alternative options available to help your staff concentrate on their work and reduce the impact of office noise.

Choosing the right wired headset or wireless headset option is a great starting point as the dual earpads of a binaural headset provide passive noise cancelling, reducing the impact of surrounding noise and making it easier for the user to concentrate.

In addition, you need to consider the noise pollution from a busy office that can be transferred through a microphone to the caller on the other end of the phone. Having a headset with efficient noise cancellation technology will result in a less disruptive conversation and improved sales.

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[1] https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/topics/open-plan-workplace/much-noise/

[2] https://theconversation.com/open-plan-office-noise-increases-stress-and-worsens-mood-weve-measured-the-effects-162843

[3]  http://www.libraries.iub.edu/intranet/data/paper/document_04.pdf