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In a recent newsletter, we mentioned many organisations shifting to open plan office spaces and hot-desking environments. This may offer businesses several benefits from reduced overheads and round-the-clock customer service but being elbow-to-elbow with co-workers can often bring about a lot of noise. Orangebox’s latest Office Wars report explores the ‘Mobile Generations’, where they found that ‘for cost reasons, companies are trying to cram more and more workers into smaller and smaller spaces’. More specifically they reported ‘in 2010 there was an average of 225 square feet of workspace, per employee. By 2012 this had reduced to 176 and it is projected to be 100 by 2017’.

noise pollutionAccording to another recent article, “noisy colleagues” were cited as the No 1 workplace distraction while affecting ‘53% of workers when trying to concentrate, with ‘77% preferring quiet when needing to focus’ according to Orangebox’s collaborative works. While some more creative tasks can benefit from a background hum, other work which requires more attention to detail could be better fitted to extreme quiet and so the whitepaper found that noise levels can be found as either ambient or disruptive to productivity depending on the tasks in hand.

Do you find it surprising to hear that many office workers are experiencing difficulties? How about those handling a lot of phone calls? –  let’s not forget the all-important customer here either. Do they want to hear the department shouting over each other? And what about data protection considerations too – can the customer overhear other conversations on the phone?

Some businesses who have considered the implications of not just the noise level but the duration of noise and how this has a cumulative effect have looked at acoustic separation, setting up ‘quiet’ zones, separate meeting hubs or even furniture with acoustic hoods. While for those who handle a lot of telephone enquiries, looking at using headsets can be really beneficial. Not only does this allow the user to listen without the hubbub of the entire office, but prevents unnecessary pain from holding the receiver in the crook of the neck while typing.


So evidently noise pollution can reduce performance, interfere with communication, cause annoyance and alter social behaviour among employees.  Speaking with Brian Roberts from Voice Active, hearing loss may very well be a silent epidemic in Britain and it could be spreading. Once hearing is damaged, it cannot be restored. The argument for many individual workers is of course that they have limited or little control over noise exposure in the workplace.


‘Mobile Generations’ – A report by Orangebox into the implications of our increasing resilience on hand held technology, our changing places of work and the workforce within them, with insight and recommendations for achieving better working practices, environments and products.

You may also be interested in:

– For research-based infographic relating to health and wellbeing, visit http://www.mobilegenerations.org.uk/ 

– Shhh! Noisy Coworkers No.1 Office Distraction

– How to survive in an open-plan office

– Managing Interruptions tool


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