For some of us silence is golden, whilst for others it’s deafening. Both sayings, just as popular, when applied to an office environment can mean either a fruitful atmosphere or one which Noisili suggests makes us 66% less productive.
With the rise of open plan workspaces, debates regarding noise in the office have become more prominent, with the UK at the forefront of those discussions. Boasting two times the average, with 49% of the workforce in open spaces, our country is polarized into those who welcome the added hustle and bustle, and those who loathe it.
Alexi Mormont, an Architect and Professor at UCL, tells us that these offices are conducive to our younger workers, writing that “we know from what young people are telling us that they prefer much more free-flowing offices.” Despite this, the extremes that come with sound, or lack of it, could be harming us as a whole. From studies by Cornell University, which show sudden noises to increase epinephrine levels and thus triggering our fight or flight response, to pin drop syndrome, a mental trigger which has actually been used as a torture technique, and is described as the “extreme quietness in an office which leads to worker stress because of the significance of even the smallest of sounds”, silence can raise our stress levels just as much as the chatterbox next door.
This aversion to mind-numbing quiet is something the BBC came across recently. Complaining that the silence within their working space was causing them stress and resulting in feelings of loneliness, finance workers at the company invested £2,300 on a white noise ‘chitchat’ machine, in order to create an artificial atmosphere.
This machine, though seemingly expensive has most probably saved money in the long run, with a study conducted by Oxford University Press, finding workers who are exposed to a moderate level of ambient noise outperformed those in silent environments. For those whose environment is either above or below ‘ambient’, companies have been coming up with ingenious ways to create the perfect atmosphere. Most significantly headphones like Libratone’s Q Adapt, which allow for adjustable noise cancelling, so you can hear your phone ringing but block out June’s description of her ‘crazy weekend with the girls’.
It’s clear that the key here is to provide balance for all of our employees and yet a 2015 survey found that although 95% of the UK’s workforce frequently needed a quiet, private workspace, 41% have no option of one.
Companies, at the forefront of employee engagement, are attempting to counter this and give their employees the best of both worlds, offering open plan internal hotdesking, combined with relaxed areas for quiet reflection. Offices like those at Money.co.uk HQ who provide separate areas for those needing a little peace, and who wittily call their ‘quiet room’ The Library are becoming a beacon for workplace change, ensuring we get the best out of all our employees, and not just the chatterboxes.