“Colleagues, breathe quietly”: why office noise drives us crazy – getting ready for Monday

For many people, open space is a symbol of corporate hell. Opponents of an open plan speak of the feeling of a crowded anthill, which is inhabited not by people, but by production units. Let’s figure out where this feeling comes from. AND what role does noise play in this.

A photo @chairulfajar_ / Unsplash

In the middle of the 20th century, when the German company Quickborner introduced the first such concept, office working conditions did not differ much from the factory ones. Like workers at their machines, the white-collar workers sat at long rows of desks, and the bosses of the processes from their personal accounts. An open plan was to fill such spaces with the spirit of creativity and freedom. In this office, no barriers were supposed, the managers were seated next to the ordinary employees, and the tables themselves could be combined in any way necessary.

But already in the 60s, it became clear that life went a different way. Even her ardent admirers turned away from the open plan. For example, designer and inventor Robert Propst was one of the first to promote the idea of ​​open space in the United States. But in the end called such officesa desert that drains vitality, suppresses talent, undermines undertakings“. He suggested solving this problem with cubic, where each employee would have a small, but their own space – however, this approach was subsequently criticized.

Academic approach

Claims to open space go beyond “taste” – studies have confirmed that employees work worse in such offices. For example, Harvard scientists have learned that open plan cuts direct communication between colleagues – they prefer to write a message instead of talking. The authors of the study studied the staff of OpenCo1, which declared a “war on the walls” in its office and transplanted people from separate rooms into a single open space. Using wearable sociometric gadgets (Fig. 1 in the article), scientists tracked the interactions of employees with each other. It turned out that the number of personal interactions in open space fell by 70%, and the volume of correspondence in mail and instant messengers increased by one and a half times.

Maybe it’s good that people don’t spend time chattering? No, productivity in the open space still suffers. Firstly, in such offices it is impossible to maintain focus – this is complains the vast majority of employees (in a study covering 5,000 office workers from 10 countries, 99% of respondents noted this factor), and 40% say that they are constantly distracted. This means that after some distracting factor knocks a person out of a rut, he needs to spend extra time to re-enter the work process.

A photo Tim gouw / Unsplash

And, as German-American showed studycontext does not matter. Scientists instructed the participants in the experiment to sort out the mail that supposedly accumulated during their vacation. In the process, they periodically received requests from the “boss”, all purely on working topics. Even simple appeals led subjects to stress. To compensate for the time spent on other tasks, they tried to work faster, and their letters became shorter and superficial.

In open space, employees are faster get tiredcomplain about migraine and problems with memory. This is a fact, and all these difficulties have one source – the incessant office noise.

The price of bad sounds

In 2013, researchers at the University of Sydney collected complaints from office staff who worked in open spaces, cubes, and traditional classrooms. As it turned out, wherever a person worked, most of all he suffers from a lack of “sound personal space”.

Even if elevators do not work well in the building, and faded carpets are decorated with spots of a decade ago, this is not as annoying as constant conversations around and the inability to calmly conduct calls and discussions, without the risk of being heard. Avanta Serviced Office Group researchers came to the same conclusions. They found that the most in the office distract conversations of colleagues – live and by phone. In general, more than 80% of office employees complain about such a source of background noise. Indeed, to ignore someone’s communication is literally “above your ear” is difficult, and the nature of this reaction is physiological. This has been proven at Cornell University. Scientists discoveredthat characteristic office sounds increase the level of adrenaline – the body responds in the spirit of “fight-or-flight” (“fight or run”), and it is very difficult to restrain it with only one conscious effort.

Is it possible to be unfit for open space

For some of us, it is particularly difficult in open space. First of all, of course, these are people with low stress resistance. According to the American National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, they may to face ulcerative exacerbations, heart disease, high blood pressure.

It is impossible to get used to such noise – the negative effect of an unfavorable environment only grows with time. It is easy to guess that introverts suffer in open offices, and this is an assumption confirmed professors of two Serbian institutes. They tested their students and assembled a group of 46 introverts and 77 extraverts (to determine the propensity for introversion / extraversion, scientists used the Eysenck personality questionnaire EPQ) The participants received a task that had to be completed in noisy conditions. Everyone coped with the task, but the introverts worked more slowly, complaining of fatigue and inability to concentrate. Extroverts, on the contrary, thought worse in silence.

A photo ANDI WHISKEY / Unsplash

Recently, scientists have been talking about a specific syndrome that causes intolerance to the sounds of chewing, crunching and other frequent elements of the office panorama. This disorder is called “misophonia” (or, in other spelling variants, “misophonia”) – from the Greek words “hate” and “sound.” People suffering her describe different emotions: severe irritation, anger, panic – the reactions fit into the paradigm of “hit-or-run”. The exact causes of misophonia have yet to be established, but neurophysiologists already identified parts of the brain that are “activated” when the misophonist watches a video with champing or loud breathing people.

Some research bind intolerance to sounds with high neuroticity. Note that this is not a tendency to neurosis, but one of five key character traits (neuroticism is understood, in particular, as “the inability to effectively regulate negative emotions”). True, there is good news – people with high rates of neuroticity, in addition to intolerance to sounds, also often show creative abilities. Darwin, Chekhov, Marcel Proust are considered to be misophonics today – more than a worthy company.

How not to go crazy with noise

Despite the depressing disease statistics, employee complaints and general opinion about open space, such offices continue to be popular. So, to avoid such an experience will be difficult. But a variety of (sometimes frankly strange) gadgets will help to “shut off” the noise – from helmets and masks to peculiar “shore”, Which simultaneously reduce the load on peripheral vision and muffle external sounds. It is worth recognizing that most of them are expensive and not always effective. Ear plugs and headphones are a more popular way to protect against noise. However, not everything is so simple here either – scientists do not have an unequivocal answer to the question whether music increases productivity during intellectual work or, on the contrary, is distracting.

If vigorous rhythms only make you nervous, try turning on the special soundtrack in the headphones. For instance, pink noiseIt can even help restore organic damage to the ear. Those for whom this option for some reason does not fit, you can return to nature – and try to work under the sound of rain or sea waves.

Headphones, gadgets and new materials help to cope with the noise “on an individual basis”, but it is likely that the fashion for open space will sooner or later decline. Already, some employers are trying to look for alternatives to beautiful, but uncomfortable offices. Sometimes they try to diversify open-plan plants and bookshelves – so that employees can “hide” in emerging niches. Another alternative to open space is working from home, and some companies, like Pixar, generally go over to spaces with individual offices and open common areas for non-working communication.

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