Open plan offices are most people's personal hell. Unfortunately, we're unlikely to suddenly all get our own personal workspace (with a door) which means they're here to stay. Since we'll just have to put up with them, here are some strategies to help cope with a bunch of noise while working.
By the time I'd started my professional career in the mid-1990s, open plan offices were becoming common. Under the guise of promoting better collaboration and interaction between colleagues, and with the financial motivation of packing more people into the available office space, we have seen that move to the more impersonal hot-desking movement. But while the idea that removing the walls in our offices can only help us collaborate and communicate more, a new study finds that the opposite is the case.
The main gripe we tend to have with open plan offices is the noise. As I type this, there are keyboards clicking away, a sound system is blasting music through the office and I can hear a Skype meeting going on right next to me. While I don't really mind it, it definitely couldn't be described as peaceful.
Sony has just released its 2019 Sound Report and it revealed almost one in three workers have to deal with this reality. According to the report, workers in open plan offices are around 45 per cent more likely to be negatively affected by noise than workers with dividing walls. Catherine McMahon, an audiology professor at Macquarie University said noise pollution could even have harmful effects on our bodies and minds.
"The stress of these noises throughout the day can even disrupt our sleep that evening, which will increase our tiredness and dampen productivity the following day," Professor McMahon said.
"Other studies have found that it can eventually have an impact on the cardiovascular system and is associated with an increased incidence of arterial hypertension, myocardial infarction, heart failure, and stroke.
"While we recognise the acute impacts that these noises have, for example, we get irritated or annoyed, we have only begun to uncover longer terms effects that this sustained stress can have on our health."
In light of this, we're putting forward a few tips to help cope.
Find your happy place
Most offices should be equipped with somewhere outside of the primary office space for you to work in relative peace. If this is an option available for you, take advantage of moving away when the noise gets to be too much. Peaceful outside happy places are even better as you'll get to some possibly much-needed sun and your eyes will get a break from office lights.
If it's not possible to move your work to a different space when the noise hits a high point, take opportunities to give yourself a breather. Whether it's heading for a bathroom break, making yourself a quick tea or going for 10-minute stroll in the area around your work, it'll help you reset and avoid succumbing to any frustrating noise pollution.
Invest in noise-cancelling headphones
Thanks to technology, noise-cancelling features on headphones are now common place. When you have no option but to sit through it all at your desk, a noise-cancelling headphone can block out the office around you. There are a number of great over-ear and in-ear noise-cancelling headphones on the market right now so proper research will be your friend here.
Sony recently dropped its compact WF-1000XM3 noise-cancelling earbuds and while they look pretty schmick and borrow some features from their headphone papa, the Sony WH-1000X M3, let's take a look at what they offer us for the $399.95 price tag.
Request better acoustics
Look, we know this is the least likely option but if you don't ask, you'll never know. A lot of noise pollution occurs from the materials offices are built with and a simple design switch can potentially help to dull out noises so they're less sharp. Soft, fabric materials like carpet are great for absorbing noises better while concrete and metal tend to reflect harsh noises. If you can't refurbish the whole office, which is fair, consider suggesting fabric dividers to place between desks. It'll help a bit at the very least.
I have to admit that when I worked in an office that open plan offices were not for me. And after a decade of working from home most of the time, I could think of nothing worse than working in a borderless office where every phone call, the smell of other people's lunch and random walk-by got in the way of my flow. But, it turns out I might be an out-rider - at least based on a new study from Future Workplace commissioned by Plantronics.