Celebrating Spaces

Part 3

As the weather slowly gets cheerier outside, we think it’s a great time of year to make your workplace cheerier inside! Here at Office Needs, we believe that a well-designed work space is one of the best productivity boosters out there. So welcome to Part Three of the monthly theme for May – Celebrating Spaces!

We often think about designing a great workplace in terms of visuals. But what about the audio quality? When you sit in your office, are the sounds around you a benefit or a distraction for your working day?

In this blog post, we explore some thoughts around sound and work spaces…

1. Firstly, the bad news…

This may not surprise you, but a classic study into workplace noise showed that overheard speech and general office noise have a detrimental effect on a variety of tasks. So if you’re sitting in a noisy office (and yes, that does include noise from servers, printers and noisy colleagues) without any kind of sound absorbing features, you’re probably not working at your best!

If you’re reading this blog and thinking this sounds horribly familiar, then we’ve got some thoughts on how you could make your workplace sound better…

2. Try adding music to your day

Music is an interesting topic in the workplace – a huge number of studies have been conducted over the years to investigate whether it really does make us more productive.

Good news for those who love to block out the world with a Spotify playlist – there is some evidence to suggest that it can help us work better. For example, a landmark study back in 1972 showed that when factory workers listened to upbeat music, they performed better at work.

However, despite other studies that have supported this over the years, it has become increasingly apparent that the type of music, and the task you are doing while listening, are crucial factors in whether it helps or hinders your concentration. Generally speaking, evidence suggests that the following guide is true:

  • Pick music without lyrics to reduce distraction
  • Pick music with a steady rhythm and mood
  • Don’t listen to music all the time – the benefits appear to reduce if it’s constant
  • Don’t listen to music you really like or hate – this distracts you more
  • Music has negative effects on tasks involving reading comprehension, so stick to other types of task for a better effect

However, there is another important thing to remember if you want to really feel the positive effect of music in the workplace…

3. Beware office headphone etiquette…

If you do decide to use earphones, whether noise cancelling or otherwise, there is one major pitfall awaiting you – office etiquette!

Although it is becoming increasingly common to wear headphones in the office, it can also be a little awkward for colleagues to identify the difference between someone listening to music or sitting in on a conference call, for example. Headphones are often seen as a sign that someone doesn’t want to be disturbed, which may or may not be accurate, but might present problems for colleagues who need to transfer a call to your desk or get your attention.

One often-cited suggestion is a system of only using one earbud if you’re happy to be disturbed (not quite so easy for over-ear headphone users). However, this doesn’t work for everyone, so it’s definitely worth checking with your team whether you can come to an accepted form of headphone etiquette (and you can always cite our blog as an argument for sometimes wanting to use productivity boosting music in the workplace!)

So what should you do if you can’t effectively use music to soften the sound of your workplace?

4. Try creating a better sounding office!

Yes, we appreciate that some noises will simply be a part of office life (and some can be good noises – like the sound of someone opening a new packet of Hobnobs). But it’s definitely possible to ease the distracting effect by thinking about acoustic absorption in your office space.

Essentially speaking, sounds are caused by waves, and when these waves hit an object, one of three things happens – they are reflected straight back out into the room, transmitted through lightweight materials (like some office cubicle walls) or partially trapped and turned into a very small amount of heat energy.

So if you want to reduce the disturbing noise that’s bouncing around in your office, one of the best ways to do it is to introduce more objects that can soak up the noise.

For example, if you have an office with rows of desks where people make a lot of phone calls, you could add sound-absorbing screens, or specially designed sound-absorbing baffles that hang from the ceiling between the desks. This won’t eliminate the noise, but will soften it, and stop it travelling around the room as much.

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You can also create specially designed meeting areas that feature sound absorption, from soft seating booths to complete glass structures. This allows you to add meeting space to a busy office without teams disturbing each other.

That’s all from me this week, but I hope you enjoy making your working day sound better! If you do have great ideas for productive playlists, why not share them with us on social media?

Join us next week for Part 4 of ‘Celebrating Spaces’!

If you’ve got thoughts on what you’d like us to cover next, why not get in touch with us on social media? We’d love to hear from you!

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