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Fundamental productivity tips for noisy offices

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I work in my own study. It’s quiet and calm. I have double-glazing, a door I can shut and even a hand-built silent PC. Nothing disturbs my work except my own distractability.

Brain work requires flow – a psychological state of concentration that takes 15-20 minutes to achieve and which is easily disturbed. Here are some productivity tips to cut the waffle from your workspace. 

Make some noise about silence

But millions of people work in environments that stop people concentrating. Indeed, it seems like companies go out of their way to build working environments that actively prevent work.

Recent research confirms the intuition that “Sound affects us psychologically, psychologically, cognitive and behaviourally, even though we're not aware of it,” according to Julian Treasure, Chairman of The Sound Agency.

Noisy shops are unwelcoming. Hospital noise levels affect patients and distract staff.  But perhaps the worst culprit is the open-plan office. Treasure says that office workers are 66 percent less productive in an open-plan office than when working on their own.


The open-plan nightmare

In the noisiest offices, people actually achieve only about one hour’s productive work for every ten hours of body time, according to research cited in Peopleware. The best environments managed about four hours in ten. Imagine if you could quadruple your staff’s productivity simply by small improvements in the working environment?

Silence is golden

Here are some suggestions for controlling your working sound:

  • Don’t add music to noise to cover it up. Address the underlying causes of the noise.
  • Avoid lyric-heavy music or, worse, speech radio.
  • Adopt library rules for shared working areas. Sshhh! No talking.
  • Try a Trappist Tuesday where nobody speaks for a day. If that’s too daunting, try it for an hour and see how much you get done.
  • Cancel one meeting a week, or just don’t turn up for one.
  • Check out Study for iOS, an app that plays calming soundscapes.
  • Or just try Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.
  • If possible, give people doors they can shut.
  • Try noise-cancelling headphones but without any music – just for the silence.
  • Switch off phone ringers and pagers to reduce interruptions.
  • Monitor your own concentration levels with tools like RescueTime.
  • Create spaces for casual conversations and meetings away from people’s desks.
  • Invest in a bit of sound proofing and quieter equipment – noisy PC fans aren’t always obvious but the cumulative noise can be draining.

With these productivity tips you can dim the din and ensure you stay in the zone throughout your working day. 


Matthew Stibbe

Matthew is founder and CEO of Articulate Marketing.