When it comes to office design, open plan remains by far the most popular layout – and it’s not hard to understand why. This style of work area represents a highly efficient use of space, and it’s also effective at encouraging collaboration between colleagues. However, open plan offices do have their drawbacks, and it seems as though executives and employees may be somewhat at odds when it comes to what works and doesn’t work in these environments.
Study findings that may take managers by surprise
Working in collaboration with Plantronics, Oxford Economics polled over 600 executives and 600 employees on what they perceive to be the advantages and disadvantages of open plan work areas. The study turned up some interesting results. For example, while 53 per cent of workers reported that ambient noise in their offices reduces their productivity and satisfaction in their roles, only 35 per cent of managers identified ambient noise as a problem for their personnel.
Also, executives seem to overestimate the extent to which workers have the tools they need to filter out excessive noise. While only 41 per cent of employees believe they have the tools they require to filter out the distractions around them, 63 per cent of managers thought their workers have what they need for this purpose. This may in part be because managers have such different experiences to regular employees in the workplace. Of the executives polled, 62 per cent had their own private offices. This compared to just 14 per cent of employees.
Fewer than a fifth of employees (18 per cent) said that their managers have taken steps to reduce noise in the workplace, and executives revealed that limiting distractions was low on their list of priorities when designing offices.
The team behind the study concluded by suggesting that noise and distraction are bigger issues than the majority of executives realise, adding that businesses should make more of an effort to understand their workers’ concerns and take steps to address them.
Simple design features that can limit noise levels
If you’re worried that noise levels are too high in your office and your personnel are struggling to focus on their tasks as a result, now’s the time to take action. After all, if your employees aren’t able to get on with their tasks properly, their productivity can plummet, which is bad news for your bottom line. Also, stress levels in your office may soar and morale could suffer, making it more difficult for you to retain your best talent.
The good news is, you don’t have to have a complete office refit in order to address this issue. There are some relatively simple steps you can take that should help to bring down noise levels and limit distractions. For example, if you don’t have them already, you might benefit from incorporating floor screens into your office design. You could use them to separate different departments, or you could cordon off breakout areas or your staff canteen. Meanwhile, desk screens can be used to give individual workers added privacy. Highly portable and available in a range of different colours, floor and desk screens can make a big difference to volume levels in any office environment.
Rethinking some of the materials you use in your office could help you to control noise levels too. As a general rule, hard surfaces cause echoes and therefore increase the volume in workspaces. So, when you’re trying to control sounds, it’s wise to use softer materials where possible. For example, carpets are better at limiting noise than tiles and polished floors, and acoustic ceiling tiles are also a savvy investment. It’s even possible to purchase decorative wall art that doubles as soundproofing. For example, you can get special panels that reduce the bounce-back of sounds. These panels can showcase anything from attractive prints to your company logo or pictures of your products.
Plants provide you with another simple way to turn down the volume in your office. They absorb sound and can provide people with added privacy. As well as regular pot plants, why not consider going a step further and using green walls in your workspace? These distinctive features are extremely effective at limiting sound levels and they make a style statement at the same time.
Be logical when it comes to your office layout
On a more general level, take noise into account when you’re designing your office layout. For example, try to avoid positioning loud departments (such as those that use phones a lot) next to quieter ones, and if possible don’t put equipment like printers and scanners in the middle of work areas.
Creating different zones can also help you to control the volume in your office. By providing your employees with an area away from the main office where they can go for discussions with colleagues and hold impromptu meetings and brainstorming sessions, you can reduce the number of potentially loud conversations that take place in the main part of your office. You might also want to provide your personnel with special quiet spaces that they can go to when they need to be away from distractions to focus on individual tasks.
Well worth the effort
As the Oxford Economics and Plantronics study reveals, not all managers are aware of the frustration that excessive noise can cause among employees. Those businesses that ignore this issue risk suffering a loss of productivity and they may struggle to keep hold of their workers.
In contrast, by showing that you do take this issue seriously and by designing your office accordingly, you stand to make your workers happier and more effective in their roles. Ultimately, this is great news for all concerned.