Office noise can be a helpful buzz or a hindrance—it all depends on the activity you’re engaged in. Sometimes, coworkers’ supportive comments lift spirits on a dull day; on other occasions, however, dramatic conversations become annoying. In the business world, maintaining deadlines and producing work in a timely manner is a vital component of success. So, how can you tackle office noise without offending your coworkers?
Open-plan office spaces have been a common part of corporate life for decades. For much of the first half of the twentieth century, desks were arranged in rows and were often topped with typewriters—particularly in journalistic environments. Until the 1980s, many companies also allowed their employees to smoke in open-plan offices.
The cigarettes and typewriters may be gone, but office noise remains. Radios sit where the ashtrays once sat; computers have replaced typewriters, and office gossip still reigns supreme. A host of other noise-making devices add additional distractions: cellphones, computer programs, digital reminders, tablet apps, telephones, buzzers, microwaves, and coffee pots—the list is endless.
Office cubicles, which were originally designed to segregate open-plan offices into manageable, worker-friendly chunks, have repeatedly proven an ineffective remedy for office noise. The humble cubicle started life as part of Herman Miller’s “Action Office” series in the 1960s. Ironically, the system was designed to increase communication between office workers and render offices more productive. Once considered de rigueur, the office cubicle has fallen out of favor in recent years.
Office noise and other distractions can be tremendously frustrating. Nevertheless, there are solutions. Before you move your work area to the office-supply closet and bolt the door, consider the following remedies:
- Music can help. There is some debate about the effectiveness of music in the workplace; however, the general consensus is that predictable, soothing songs can help alleviate stress and encourage productivity. Lyric-free tunes provide an aural focal point.
- White noise is the right noise. By itself, a fan or a strategically programmed app can help drown out office noise. Interestingly, studies have shown that flat-spectrum sound improves cognitive function and mood in ADHD sufferers.
- Create a silent happy place. If you produce your best work in a quiet environment, consider investing in a pair of noise-canceling headphones. In a pinch, foam earplugs are also effective. If you choose this approach, be sure to tell your boss and coworkers first.
- If you have the power to do so, call an office meeting and share your concerns about noise with fellow staff members. You may be surprised at the sympathetic responses you receive.
You cans use one, two, or all of the above strategies to help diminish the impact of office noise and make your admin role easier. Some people prefer to alternate tactics, while others benefit from a predictable schedule.
Office noise can be difficult to tackle, particularly in large community environments. On one hand, you want to encourage bonding and maintain a friendly workplace atmosphere; on the other, you want to concentrate on work. The tips mentioned above can help you achieve both—without upsetting anyone in the process. Try one or more of the strategies mentioned and reduce office noise in a snap.
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