According to a new body of research, the distractions caused by cubicle offices can mean a 5-10% decline in employees’ ability to read, write, and carry out other tasks requiring efficient use of short-term memory.
Concurrent studies run by Finland's Institute of Occupational Health and the University of California, Berkeley found that in an office environment, speech is the most disturbing type of sound because it is processed so rapidly by the brain.
Over the last 10 years, the study out of Berkeley surveyed some 65,000 people in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia, and found that a lack of “speech privacy,” was the number one complaint in offices everywhere.
“Noise is the most serious problem in the open-plan office, and speech is the most disturbing type of sound because it is directly understood in the brain’s working memory,” Valtteri Hongisto, an acoustician from the Finnish study said.
Allow workers to wear headphones and listen to music at work - many find it less distracting than half-heard conversations in the background.
Carpet, wallpaper and dividers all absorb sound and reduce the overall volume in the office.
Consider investing in noise-reducing technology such as a "pink noise" system, which is designed to match the pitch of the human voice. For a 100 square metre office with "normal" characteristics (carpet, ceiling tiles) it could cost as little as $1500.
Next week HRM looks at how sound masking options work, and whether they're appropriate for your workspace.
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