Art of noise: how to deal with loud workplaces

Sound of silence is more beneficial

For common noise relief, the simplest answer may be to block it with earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones.

For common noise relief, the simplest answer may be to block it with earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones.

 

Most of us live and work in noisy environments. And it’s bad for us: Some studies link noise to decreased performance in the workplace or classroom. Here are four things you can do to regain some quiet.

According to research, open office environments in which workers overhear other conversations can reduce productivity by 66 per cent, and classrooms with high noise levels may prevent kids from hearing 50 per cent of what is taught. Yet, for all of this evidence, most of us remain ensconced in noisy environments. So what can we do? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Properly design your home or workplace. Open office environments may have a number of benefits for collaboration, efficient space usage and office culture. But due to noise levels and interruptions, they can negatively impact concentration. Similarly, air conditioners, heating units and electronic devices are critical modern conveniences, but the background noise they create can hinder performance and health. Proper design offsets these impacts.

2. Close the door; turn off the TV. Many of us reflexively fill silent spaces with music, radio programmes or television shows. Or we allow the well-intentioned temptation to maintain an “open door policy” in the workplace to prevent us from quietly focusing with deep concentration on the task at hand. There are times for TVs, open doors and stereos. But there are also times for silence, and to be healthier and more effective, we’d do well to make space for both.

3. Put in your earplugs. A classic response to unwanted noise is to replace it with wanted noise, like music. But research shows that while emotionally satisfying, music may actually decrease a person’s capacity for recall. So for common noise relief, the simplest answer may be to block it with earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones.

4. Take a noise retreat. Even if you can’t cut down on the noise in your daily life, find periods of respite in quiet places like the beach or in the mountains.

In association with Harvard Business Review