Is your noisy office killing your productivity?

by Alja Isakovic

If you live in the city or work in a busy office, escaping noise is almost impossible. But how much noise is too much and why is it that some people just can’t work without background noise? The answer actually depends on what kind of task you’re trying to accomplish!


Quiet for focus, some distractions for creativity

Are you trying to read an important paper or practicing for a presentation, but keep losing focus? Check your noise levels. According to some studies, you can improve recall and reading, attention and memory by reducing your background noise.

However, if you’re trying to come up with creative solutions, a moderate level of ambient noise, around 70 dB, might actually give you an extra nudge. The mild distraction will keep your mind open and alert to fresh ideas. That is probably why some enjoy working in busy coffee shops. If you’re stuck in a quiet office, you can always try to emulate that bustling creative atmosphere with websites like Coffitivity or Rainy Cafe. Just don’t go over 85 dB or you’ll not only be too distracted to be creative or productive, but might even risk hearing damage.

While an occasional break at the local coffee shop can help you find a creative solution, it’s probably best not to make working in noisy environments a habit. Research shows that ambient noise can make us more stressed, which certainly won’t lower your high blood pressure or make that migraine disappear. What’s worse, it might even make you less willing to cooperate!

Sharing noise is not caring!

If you’re sharing your working space with other people, be mindful of individual preferences. If you’re used to working with music and your coworkers aren’t, or if the music you love sounds like noise to them, use headphones at reasonable sound levels. And avoid making personal phone calls that will make everyone around you lose their focus. When we hear just one side of a conversation, our brains instinctively try to fill in the gaps, making it more difficult to stay on task we are supposed to be doing.

Finally, keep in mind that it’s not just other people that make an office noisy. If your computers are getting noisier that usual, it might be time to remove all that dust from the fans or use the noise as an excuse for an upgrade. If you’ve got loud servers, printers, copiers and what not in your vicinity, you might want to consider moving them into a corner from which they won’t be stressing out the entire office.

The Cubes are happy to lend an ear

When it comes to noise, there is no single answer that will fit everyone. Which is why it can be helpful to have an impartial referee, like our very own CubeSensors. For instance, the Cubes are now telling me our office is perfect for focused tasks at relatively quiet 48 dB. And I can rest assured they’ll let me know if it gets too noisy to be productive or if we’ll need to turn the music down later on at the office party.