Over 54% of offices in Britain are open plan nowadays and while this style may be a better use of office space in reality, the layout could be detrimental to your business. The rise of these types of environments brings additional noise and noise most certainly hampers concentration. A study at the University of Sydney back in 2013 found that too much noise was the biggest frustration for employees trying to work.


Without doubt, any office has background noise but when it’s open plan, the noise level rises. Generally office noise is around 50 decibels but introduce a conversation into that noise and it quickly rises to over 70 decibels. Then multiply that conversation by around five or more different conversations around work stations and it becomes impossible to really focus concentration fully on the task at hand.

There’s much research on the subject. Of course, certain sounds are part and parcel of everyday work. The sound of the city outside when a window is open (or when it’s closed and not properly insulated with double glazing), white noise from office machinery and music for example, yes, some of these sounds can be tuned out for a certain amount of time but sooner or later, they interrupt chains of thought and for most people, that results in decreased performance.

Signs Your Office Is Too Loud

So how do you know if your office is simply too loud? Well, signs include your employees leaving the office with humming or ringing in their ears or even with temporary deafness! Another sign is when an employee needs to shout to be heard by the person at the next desk to them. Not only is work hampered but the noise levels in your office could be seriously damaging your employees’ health.

Noise From Outside The Office

The environment outside an office is even more important than the inside, external factors such as traffic congestion, busy city atmospheres, schools and construction companies will all lead to distracting noisy work environments. All of these entities can have a negative impact on noise and production within the office, especially in the summer when windows are open. A solution to this is to install Acoustic fencing which will minimise outside noise and hopefully increase productivity within the workplace. However looking at the benefits on the other side of the fence, the local community who live within close proximity may appreciate an acoustic fence to block out business production noise from their day to day lives, if your company receives many noise complaints this should most definitely be considered, Jacksons recently installed Jakoustic fencing at Faversham Linen Services.

Acoustic fencing along road

Intermittent Speech

One of the worst types of office noise that is very difficult to tune out is what’s known as intermittent speech. This is the type of noise in a conversation that leads to some words being overheard every now and again by those not involved in the same conversation, therefore disrupting them. It also includes telephone calls, where the person on the other end is talking (unheard) and every now and again, the other person responds.

Intermittent speech is one of the most commonly heard sounds in an office and they type of noise that is heard all day, every day. Another example is when others chime in with their own thoughts to a conversation – very distracting and interrupts concentration for others! Interestingly, continuous speech which has little volume variance and rhythm isn’t quite as irritating as intermittent speech.

Think about it, when working in an office people must stay attentive. They constantly perform cognitive tasks, they number-crunch, read text, process it and type up their findings. When constantly interrupted by speech, white noise, music, outdoor noise, telephones – the task definitely takes longer which is why productivity is affected.


Many offices allow music as background noise but actually this can also have a negative effect on some. Interestingly, music does boost positive emotion and for some people, it can even speed up their productivity because of the subconscious rhythm. However, in analysis, it can disrupt reading because the mind is subconsciously listening to lyrics. So the mind reads text but doesn’t process it as it’s too busy listening to something else! So music should only be selectively used as some people just don’t get along with it.

Different Personality Types and Noise

Of course it’s very difficult to have a completely silent office unless you choose to house your employees in separate offices away from each other. However, many people much prefer the camaraderie of others around them while they work and single offices aren’t really the best use of space. However, the truth is that quiet is preferable to noise and workers do concentrate much better without noise. Personality does come into it though.

There was a study in Glasgow based on two different personality types, introverts and extroverts. This study used different levels of noise on the participants while they performed cognitive tasks. The noise varied from everyday white noise, city sounds, music, loud conversation etc. The results were very interesting. The bottom line was that everyone, introverts and extroverts did worse in the tests when there was any background noise compared to when they did the same tests in silence. However, the introverts did even worse than the extroverts. So results showed that introverted personalities are therefore more sensitive to unwanted noise. Extroverts can fight off noise better but they still performed to a higher degree in silence. In summary here, no noise is better for workers than any noise.

On the other hand, noise and creativity are a fairly good pairing. Another study, at the University of Illinois had a group of participants working on a creative challenge while being played a series of different levels of noise. At low noise (around 50 decibels – the sound of a busy office) they were actually less creative than listening to noise at 70 decibels. However, once the volume was cranked up further, they couldn’t concentrate at all and the creative task was at a standstill. This could well prove that creative types work well with music but be mindful of others and if this sounds like your office, encourage a creative area with music or allow your creatives to wear headphones if they prefer.

How To Manage Office Noise

The main point to take from this article is that there’s no doubt, loud, busy offices do impact productivity and at the end of the day, you want your team to be productive. So what can you do to manage the level of noise in your office? The best thing is to employ Peak Acoustics to visit your place of business and conduct a site visit. From this meeting, we will be able to assess any noise hindrance and suggest what can be done to reduce noise levels. It could be in the form of better insulation, a change in office planning, designated areas for quiet work, acoustic changes to walls, ceilings and floors. If it helps your office output to improve, it’s well worth the time and the effort because actually, silence is golden so contact us today about sound testing & acoustics; we promise you’ll like what you hear! Contact us Peak Acoustics