Sound in the workplace: What's best?

Overhearing a telephone conversation nearby, listening to coworkers talking, phones ringing, the hum of the printer, and sounds of typing on a keyboard are all workplace sounds that can be nothing short of distracting when you are trying to concentrate.

With open floor plans becoming increasingly popular, noise is becoming a bigger issue for more employers. In fact, it's reported that 55 percent of workers have brought at least one noise complaint to the attention of management. So what can employers do to create an optimal work environment for employees? While the solution to noise in the workplace is a multifaceted one, here are some things to consider:

While a quiet office allows for concentration, it can also negatively affect employees’ performance by silencing communication and collaboration among employees, reducing creativity and the team atmosphere. People find themselves to be more self-conscience in a quiet office. Heaven forbid your phone goes off when you thought it was on silent! Or you have to sneeze! Consider installing acoustical panels to muffle the sound, and seat people who are frequently on the phone away from quiet workers.

Having music piped in throughout the workplace can increase productivity and make for a lively atmosphere, but it can also be distracting. Challenges include trying to choose music that everyone likes, and finding the appropriate volume level to still conduct business. Make this option work by creating a shared playlist that employees can contribute to, only playing the music during certain hours, and having quiet areas that employees can retreat to if they're distracted.

Another alternative to the dreaded quiet office or the noisy workplace is soundmasking, also known as white noise. For some companies this is a compromise, allowing employees to have the concentration they need to focus, while allowing conversations to take place without reservation. To many, it simply sounds like the hum of the HVAC system and goes unnoticed, but it goes a long way in muffling sound.

If employees need a beat to work along with, they can use personal speakers at their desks at a low level or use headphones. Some employers may not like employees using headphones because it reduces collaboration, but it's good to give people the option to use what works for them without distracting others.

Figuring out the perfect sound solution for your workplace can be difficult, and there's likely no solution that will make EVERYONE happy. But if you do what’s best for the majority and what matches your company culture, you're well on your way to accomplishing sound success.



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PeopleLisa Reynolds