Ambient noise is argued as the foremost challenge to employee wellbeing, highlighting an impact on both cognitive aspects, such as perception, but also on job investment with a direct effect on work ethics. Such risks which can escalate to heath conditions for employees and a poor performance for businesses can be counteracted by surprisingly cost efficient investments in soundscape adjustments.
Open space layouts represent the choice of 54% employers across the UK. The top argument in favour of such office settings revolve around the goal of either constructing or consolidating an inclusive, participative organisational culture by layouts presumed to encourage team bonding. However, eliminating physical barriers between colleagues inevitably infiltrates distractions, whereas being exposed to a soundscape which affects focus is confirmed to have a direct impact on motivation and productivity.
Ambient noise is demonstrated as a critical disruption to the employees’ performance, as reconnecting to concentration demands 24 minute or 5% of their working hours. An experiment published by the British Journal of Psychology signals how accuracy can fall to up 67% in the exact same task if performed in a noise-free environment and then replicated in the usual buzz found in an office. Performing under background noise is identified as a challenge since school years, as confirmed by exhaustive research on learning.
The usual office jam issues around 60 to 65 decibels, whereas highway noise is measured at 85 decibels and a humming refrigerators at 40. The German Association of Engineers has set standard recommendations for the noise level which can ensure a sustainable soundscape, indicating 70 decibels as acceptable for transactional office work, whereas intellectual tasks require a maximum of 55 decibels for an optimal performance.
Sound represents a disruption as it generates a boost of alert senses. Health effects generated by a systematic exposure to noise include hearing loss, ringing ears, sleep disorders, or hypertension being even connected to cardiovascular diseases.
When asked to reflect on eventual issues hindering their performance, respondents participating in a research conducted by the University of Berkeley mentioned noise interference (40%), as well as distractions coming from overhearing their colleagues’ phone calls (64%) or private conversations (76%). We are cognitively endowed with a 1.6 bandwidth for human conversations, with limited capacity to detach oneself from such disruptions. Therefore, being exposed to someone else’s conversation reduces to 0.6 the attention span we could channel towards our own inner voice. Such volume is attributed to a linear deployment of sound, any increase in tone or volume causing higher disruption. Furthermore, sound interference can make the phenomenon even more exhausting through a fragmentary comprehension and processing of speech. The Lombard effect highlights how ambient noise gets people actually amplifying sound by speaking louder to make themselves understand in an environment in which communication becomes hindered. Sounds or words which get to be processed cause more effort and a higher distraction than broadband that exhibits no informational content.
Expectations affirmed by UK employers revolve around high performance (99%), creativity and innovation (98%) and relaxation (96%). For an employer, an exhausting soundscape brings hidden additional costs, as on the long term it may lead to absenteeism and even employee retention.
Readjusting office layouts to neutralise noise levels is recommended as a priority, as even a minor advancement towards an optimal work climate can be synchronised to a higher employee engagement. Studies conducted by the British Gypsum (2015) indicate how a 50% reduction in ambient noise can help decrease stress levels by almost 30%.
Soundscape can be manipulated through permanent or stabilised architectural adjustments which imply sound absorption, or blocking interventions applied on the walls and ceiling. Strategies to cover ambient noise through low-level background sound may not necessarily prove efficient.
However, even if permissible under various building-depending criteria, architectural adjustments remain a highly demanding, long term if not permanent intervention which may be either not feasible, or not rapidly recoverable an investment.
Engineered for sound absorbing qualities, floor and desktop screen represent a flexible, cost efficient solution to obtain the optimal soundscape for your team’s performance. Whether freestanding or mountable, acoustic screens are easy to install, ensuring space partitioning configurations which can always be updated to your team’s needs.