Sound & Silence: How noise impacts productivity at work

Ben Southgate, Sandy Brown Associates
Sound & Silence: How noise impacts productivity at work

Noise plays a fundamental role in workplace productivity, and I’m sure we can all relate to the experience of trying to work in an office that is too loud or too quiet. However, noise levels aren’t a ‘one size fits all’ consideration: some people prefer the lively chatter of a coffee shop, while others prefer library-like silence, and yet others prefer different environments depending on their mood or what they’re working on. That’s why offices need a variety of open and private areas designed to cater for different tasks with varying sound levels. 

It was with this very much in mind that we set out the acoustic design for Storey’s new building at 6 Orsman Road in Haggerston, which offers areas to cater for different sound level preferences. Here are just three of the reasons that noise is so important. 

Productivity

Interface, in collaboration with Radius Global Market Research, surveyed more than 2,000 workers in the U.S., U.K. and Australia to determine the relationship between sound and productivity. The results revealed that noise negatively impacts a significant majority (69%) of global employees’ productivity – as well as concentration levels and creativity. Other studies have found that workers can be up to 66% less productive when exposed to just one nearby conversation.

When our attention is knocked off-centre by noises, it takes effort to return it to the task at hand. Doing so repeatedly, all day long, gradually saps away our focus. That is why we worked to design the private office spaces at 6 Orsman Road with the perfect noise levels to minimise distractions by keeping the sound level as consistent as possible.

Stress

Our brains have an innate response to loud sounds. Scientists have also discovered that excessive noise levels can raise blood pressure and trigger the release of stress hormones, with studies even linking the ringing of a phone and rhythm of a conversation to our heartrate. 

How can we design to minimise stress-provoking sounds? One measure is to offer a variety of spaces which cater to different types of work so that workers can self-select the ideal environment for their needs – and this is exactly what we have done at 6 Orsman Road. We developed acoustics guidelines for the office to ensure that there were a range of workspaces where productivity would not be impacted by bustle and noise, whilst other areas within the building have been created for noisier and more collaborative work, such as the lounge and the café, ensuring activities at different noise levels happen in different spaces. 

Conversations

There is plenty of research that shows that the most distracting sound of all is other people’s conversations. The issue isn’t eavesdropping; we literally cannot stop our brains from trying to process conversations that we hear! According to Interface research, the two most distracting sounds are conversations among colleagues, which disrupt 71% of employees, and telephone conversations at 67%. 

Acoustics are particularly important in meeting rooms, which are specifically designed for speaking. They must have privacy from the outside while ensuring perfect clarity for people involved in the conversation. We designed the meeting rooms on 6 Orsman Road’s fifth floor to minimise noise transfer by using sliding walls to control sound on both sides. 

6 Orsman Road: you’ve got to hear it to believe it 

Noise levels play a significant role in productivity, stress and overall wellbeing, but employers often ignore it. In part, this is because of how difficult it is to retrofit many office spaces to control noise levels. Fortunately, 6 Orsman Road was built with sound as a fundamental consideration from the beginning, with a variety of options for employees to find their ideal noise level. We can’t wait for you to experience it!

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