Open plan offices can offer great benefits in terms of ease of communication but the No.1 gripe of anyone who works in this environment is office noise! This is evidenced in two recent studies. In Jabra’s Top Global WorkPlace Productivity Trends (June 2018)  they determined that noise is still considered the No.1 deterrent to workplace productivity, and it’s rated especially high as an issue for workers in Germany (54%), France (48%), UK (38%) and USA (35%). And in Oxford Economics study (July 2018)  they found that the noise epidemic in offices is perceived to have got worse since their last study (2015) with only 1% of employees saying they could block out noise distraction, and companies operating with high office noise levels struggling to keep their staff beyond 6 months.
It doesn’t have to be that way though.
Office noise levels
Noise in the office is a familiar problem for those who work in them – the incessant chatter of colleagues ruining your concentration; people shouting over you when you are trying to hold a conversation on the phone; or perhaps even maintenance or building work going on next door. It’s irritating, it’s distracting, it can be a source of stress and, worst of all, there’s generally not a lot you can do about it. Or is there?
While on an individual level you may not feel like telling your co-workers to be quiet over and over, there are other solutions that can be put in place for effective management of office noise levels in the long term. Firstly, legislation exists to control daily personal noise exposure levels to safeguard workers against the harmful effects of noise in the workplace. By taking an pro-active approach to noise management – or encouraging your organisation to do so – you could make your place of work a much more pleasant and safe environment and even help increase your company’s revenue as a result of improvement in productivity.
Steps to handle noise in open plan offices & call centres
Facilities Managers, office managers or safety officers can follow these simple steps to control noise in open plan offices and call centres.
- Assess the noise levels. If you are in a position to do so, ask your safety officer or an independent noise consultant to measure typical background noise levels in your call centre or open office using a compliant sound level meter such as the Pulsar Nova. This will involve taking readings at different times and locations using a selection of employees, to find out the average noise levels and identify any significant patterns over a representative period of time.
- Use the data from the noise assessments to see if any simple changes can be made to control or minimise the noise levels. For example
- If your workers go for lunch all at the same time and come back together, this could be distracting for anyone manning the phones at the time. Try staggering lunch breaks to reduce this effect.
- If the photocopier, scanner, shredder or printer are noisy, consider moving them away from workstations.
- To prevent long discussions at workstations, try and organise break out areas or have regular meetings in another room.
- Consider sound proofing technology. If you have the budget for it, a sound pod for example would be a good way to prevent noise from leaking out of a meeting room. Absorbent wall panels stop sound from reverberating to create a more peaceful and comfortable working environment. Don’t forget to consider noise from outside too: for example, if you are based next to a busy main thoroughfare or near an industrial area, these will add to the high levels of noise.
- Raise awareness among colleagues to help control noise. While office noise levels might not be ear-splitting, it is suggested that hearing other people talking with callers or colleagues in call centres or open plan offices can reduce productivity by up to 66%. It can also elevate stress and even stimulate aggression in the worst of cases.
- Use a wall-mounted noise-activated warning system such as the PulsarSafeEar. This alert system, which is highly visible, illuminates and flashes a warning in real time when the noise levels become too loud, and the best part is that you get to choose what is meant by ‘too loud’ by simply adjusting its settings. A software programme can be added to the system to log the noise over a period of time and identify the noisier or loudest times of the working day.
We hope this article has given you a broad overview of the measures available to you to Control Noise in Open Plan Offices and Call Centres. We’re here to help so if you need further information or advice please contact us.
You can also download our FREE Employer’s guide: 5 Steps to Controlling workplace noise for practical tips on the legislation.
 Jabra & Kantar (June 2018). ‘Knowledge Worker Study 2018’, research and interviews with 1,350 respondents worldwide.
 Oxford Economics (July 2018). Interviews with 500 senior executives and non-manager employees from many industries and functional areas (Study commissioned by audio pioneer Plantronics (NYSE: PLT)
You might also like:
- Solutions for office and call centre noise
- 5 Steps for controlling workplace noise
- Noise at work – see it before you hear it!
- Guide to common noise measurement terms