Why are voices so distracting in the workplace, and what can you do about it?

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With the growing popularity of the open plan office comes a wide range of benefits for businesses, including increased cooperation and camaraderie among staff. However, these layouts also have their downfalls. One of most common complaints from employees working in a shared space is noise - more specifically, other people’s voices. Read on to find out why your colleagues’ voices are so distracting and what you can do about it. Why are voices so distracting? Whether it’s ringing phones, the hum of the air conditioning machine or your colleagues eating their lunch, there’s no getting around the fact that open plan workspaces are noisy. However, perhaps the most distracting sound, and most common office gripe, is coworker conversations. As most office workers will know, hearing other people talk can make it difficult to focus on the task at hand and can slow down productivity. Acoustic experts have suggested that sound which comes in contrasting sections, like speech, is more difficult to ignore than constant sounds. In other words, because people have different enunciations, tones and pauses when they speak, it’s more disturbing than steady sounds that don’t fluctuate as much, such as typing on a keyboard. For this reason, some scientists believe hearing multiple voices at once is less distracting. This is because when several people are speaking, it produces a more consistent noise and the voices effectively cancel each other out. However, it’s worth noting that certain studies have found the opposite. For example, Architects at the University of Sydney in Australia asked an office worker to try to concentrate on their work while people spoke. They found that combining four voices together made it harder for the worker to concentrate because the differences between each person’s voice separated the sound. What can be done? The good news is that there are simple ways to lessen the off-putting effects of voices in the office. One of the easiest solutions is to wear headphones. While listening to music can be a distraction, some people find that it can motivate them and have a positive impact on performance. An alternative option is to simply use the headphones to drown out outside noise without listening to music. People also tend not to approach you if you are wearing headphones, which means fewer disturbances throughout the day. However, many office workers find this to be detrimental as it defeats the point of an open plan office and impedes collaboration. There are also certain items of office furniture that can help to reduce distractions in open plan workspaces. For example, sound-absorbing desk screens and room partitions can be used to create quieter, more secluded areas. While they may not cancel out the sound of other people’s voices completely, these screens can help to lessen exposure to unwanted noise and increase privacy. These are just some of the ways you can reduce the distraction of people’s voices in the workplace, so why not give them a go and see what a difference it can make? To see our range of noise-reducing office screens and room partitions, browse our website today.