“An environment that is too quiet can be just as distracting as a noisy one,” says mental health expert Liva Evans.
A recent survey revealed the true impact of noise on productivity – almost 30 per cent of office workers admitted they are regularly distracted by co-workers’ conversations.
Now, researchers with Cambridge Sound Management have found that listening to a certain type of music might be instrumental in improving our output - output which is largely affected by the unwelcome racket in the office.
"When we talk about distractions what we’re primarily concerned with is intelligibility," says acoustical expert Justin Stout. If we can hear intelligible speech it’s significantly more distracting than an unintelligible hum or rhythm.
Many of us already rely on our headphones to zone out but Stout says workers should be wary of what they’re listening to. "The cognitive processes that are needed to understand and interpret lyrics are very different than the processes required to simply listen to rhythms," he says.
We might not realize it, but listening to music with lyrics is largely more distracting than listening to instrumentals and Stout says workers might struggle to manage higher-level work as their brain is otherwise engaged.
For headphone-free offices, Stout suggests a different musical approach – moving away from rhythm and striving for a ‘hum’. According to him, the key to enhancing productivity through sound is consistently generating an unintelligible mixture of sounds known as “the office hum.”
Create separate zones for intense work, give employees the ability to retreat to a quiet space and provide secluded areas for employees to hold private phone conversations, suggests Stout.
Working in the right environment in pivotal to maintaining productivity – too much noise can drive us to distraction but soul-crushing silence is often no better and, frustratingly, employees the world over still struggle to strike a balance between the two.