Focus is not simply something we can turn on and off. The latest research in brain activity has revealed that the ‘left’ and ‘right’ sides of our brains have nothing to do with creativity or logic. Instead, the right part of the brain is the ‘big picture’, while the left part focuses on details. Their collaboration with each other is how we effectively manage ideas and tasks. If our brains are forced too much into one space or get yanked out of one of the modes, it affects our mood and effectiveness.
According to Gensler’s 2013 Workplace Survey, people spend over half their working time in offices doing tasks that require focus. If the environment doesn’t allow for that, it’s a huge blow to productivity – up to 23 minutes to regain focus! But not only that – it’s also negative for our wellbeing: our health and happiness, not to mention job satisfaction.
Sound and Noise
There are several things that can cause the above-mentioned problems, and sound is often the main culprit. To be specific, when sound becomes noise (that being sounds that we find unappealing or disrupting) it has a cascading effect on our activities. Extreme examples are easy to imagine, such as trying to concentrate while a construction crew is drilling into the wall next door.
But even an unpleasant din of background noises such as copiers, air conditioners, conversations, people eating lunch… these are almost as bad and relatively speaking even worse. At least it’s easy to acknowledge a loud and noisy distraction. But many of us don’t acknowledge the impact small daily noises can also create, though research does.
According to a report published in the journal ScienceDirect, open plan offices are becoming very unpopular because of their noise and lack of privacy. The hope for collaboration and flat hierarchies have been ground down by the distractions of noise.
Nor is this academic: EU businesses lose €40 billion (R600 billion) annually due to absentee issues caused by excessive noise. Noise also elevates stress levels and blocking it out with music isn’t always the best remedy. Research shows that this actually negatively impacts information retention. Overall noise is bad for our health, wellbeing and productivity: a 2011 World Health Organisation (WHO) report titled ‘Burden of disease from environmental noise’ collated data from over 10 years and came to that very conclusion.
Sweet, sweet sounds
Fortunately, the science of noise control, also called acoustic design, has not stood still. Nor is it reserved only for the richest and biggest businesses. There are numerous things that can be done to reduce noise and create better work environments.
We’ll be exploring these choices in more detail over the next few blogs, honing into specific problem areas that exist. But there are a few things you can start to consider:
- Create private spaces for meetings or focused sessions.
- Placing noisy equipment such as copiers away from work activities.
- Look at options to soundproof windows, which are a common source for external noise.
- Add soundproofing materials to the ceiling, which otherwise is a highway for noise
- Invest in plants and rugs, which can dramatically impact the way sound travels.
The evidence is irrefutable: noise is one of the worst things for productivity, wellbeing and quality of life. In our next blog, we will explore what happens to communication in a noisy environment. Yes, even how we talk and respond to each other is hugely affected by noise. So don’t miss it!