I Can’t Hear Myself Think! – The Cost of Lost Productivity in Open Offices

T. Banting

Summary Bullets:

  • A 2014 study by Steelcase and Ipsos found that workers lost as much as 86 minutes per day due to noise distractions.
  • Companies should carefully consider sound masking and headsets with active noise cancellation (ANC) to maximize productivity for the various environments and work styles of their employees.

In open office environments today, many workers try to screen out distractions by immersing themselves in music underneath their personal headphones in an attempt to concentrate. Office acoustics definitely influence an organization’s efficiency; a 2014 study by Steelcase and Ipsos found that workers lost as much as 86 minutes per day due to noise distractions. Unfortunately, many companies adopt open office environments, as many as 70% of U.S. offices according to the International Facilities Management Association. That equates to days of lost productivity. Why then do we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars designing offices and equipping employees with the latest and greatest productivity tools only to ignore the working environment our employees have to endure?

Good workplace design should consider an employee’s needs and take into account all aspects that enhance productivity. According to The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, sound masking with natural sounds in open-plan offices leads to enhanced cognitive functioning, optimizes the ability to concentrate, and increases overall worker satisfaction. Enter Plantronics. Already recognized as a leading manufacturer of innovative consumer and business headsets, Plantronics has built on this concept and it is looking to improve open plan environments by incorporating natural sounds, aesthetics (such as waterfall panels, digital skylights, and windows), and intelligent cloud-based software that adapts and adjusts to block distracting speech. Essentially, Plantronics aims to provide the same noise cancelation one might find in high-end headphones for the entire office.

Known as ‘Habitat Soundscaping,’ Plantronics has been able to cut the distraction distance in its own offices from 32 feet down to 13 feet – approximately 60%. Plantronics’ goal is to create environments conducive to focused work and make offices a place where employees want to come to work. This also helps the vendor in attracting and retaining top talent.

For those companies that have yet to be convinced of the science behind biophilic office design, Plantronics and other manufacturers also offer ANC within their headset portfolios to reduce noise and distraction in open, collaborative, and remote workspaces.

Rather than putting in more effort to block out noise when you can’t hear yourself think, we now have effective ways to zone in by switching on the quiet. As the nature of work continues to evolve and more organizations deploy soft clients for collaboration and communications, companies should carefully consider both the environment and the audio devices they believe will maximize productivity, in conjunction with the various work styles of their employees.

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