There has been a recent turn away from cubicles in offices and towards more open concept office designs. Guidelines such as “5 Characteristics of New Office Space Design” are becoming extremely common. These guidelines advocate for open plans and collaboration spaces, with no mention of quiet space. Open design is obviously more aesthetically pleasing; however, a byproduct of a more open layout is more background noise. Background noise can have seriously detrimental effects on worker productivity. A recent study on the effects of background noise on both introverts and extroverts found that “performance was lessened across all cognitive tasks in the presence of background sound (music or noise) compared to silence” (Cassidy & MacDonald, 2007). This is a major concern because often times when people are distracted by background noise they will put on music instead. These people do not realize that listening to music also requires cognitive work (North & Hargreaves, 1999).
I do not suggest that we fully turn back to cubicles. Humans are indeed social beings, so there does need to be social spaces in offices (Fidler, 2012). As a solution companies should have both silent work areas and meeting areas for more collaborative work. This will allow workers to focus but also have a place to take breaks. To the left is a design I created of an ideal office for a fairly small company.
If an office space is unable to be easily renovated, companies could supply workers with earplugs or soundproofing headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM2 is an example of a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones are adjustable so that they can fit different head shapes. They also feature cushions around the ears so they are comfortable to wear. Furthermore, the headphones can be used with and without music so that when someone isn’t trying to work their hardest they can relax and enjoy their music. Finally, they do not require any wires to function, so the person can move freely around their office space.
Unfortunately these headphones also are rather costly, retailing for around $300. It may not appear to be initially beneficial for a company to purchase these for their employees; however, if they increase worker productivity I believe the initial costs could be made up for.
Cassidy, G., & MacDonald, R. (2007). The effect of background music and background noise on the task performance of introverts and extraverts. Psychology of Music, 35(3), 517-537.
Fidler, K. (2012). 5 Characteristics of New Office Space Design. Work Design Magazine. Retrieved from https://workdesign.com/2012/12/5-characteristics-to-new-office-space-design/
North, A., & Hargreaves, D. (1999). Music and driving game performance. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 40(4), 285-292.