If you’ve been away on holiday over the Christmas period, some of you will have been returning to “full-on” office noise.
Often when I’m on holiday, I begin to use my hearing aids sporadically. Whilst it can result in lots of conversations starting with ‘What’s that?’, and ‘What did you say?’, I tell myself that I can usually get by. Although I do end up putting them back in at some point for the sake of harmonious relationships.
Work is different. I just couldn’t cope without my hearing aids, and they’re a vital piece of equipment enabling me to do my job. However, after two weeks of relative solitude, walking back into the office can be a bit of a shock to the system.
It’s difficult to explain to people what ‘sound’ is like when you’re wearing hearing aids. It’s not like ‘hearing’ in the way I once experienced it, and you can’t simply filter out the important things from the background noise. Instead, everything is amplified and it can sometimes feel like you’re faced with a cacophony which requires some intense concentration to pick out and follow a conversation.
Working in an open plan, with a couple of dozen people on a busy day can seem especially noisy. Phones ringing, multiple telephone conversations, ad-hoc meetings and discussions at people’s workstations, keyboards clicking, printers printing; the sound emanating from all of these can sometimes end up feeling quite overwhelming.
On the other hand, on those days when there are few people around and the office is quiet, my hearing aids can be tricked into amplifying the quietest of sounds which can make the air conditioning sound like there’s a constant helicopter overhead. Office sounds are quite unique and whilst it doesn’t take long to get used to them again, it’s a real contrast to spending the day at home quietly reading or out walking and listening to a few birds and the wind in the trees.
It got me thinking about how best to cope with noise in an open plan office. I’m lucky in that our office has several small rooms that can be used for phone calls and impromptu conversations. If I have a phone call to make, I can book a room and then just put the phone on speaker. However, I’m conscious that some workplaces don’t have such luxuries and many people simply don’t have the option of slipping away from their desk that easily.
By chance, I came across an article this week in the New York Times about new acoustic designs being incorporated into restaurants. They include the use of cedar, linen covered acoustic panels on ceilings and BASWAphon, a sound absorbing plaster. It really is fantastic news that the hospitality industry is taking this seriously. I’ve had so many spoilt evenings, simply because the noise in a restaurant has been unbearable and makes conversation so difficult. It must also be really hard for the staff having to work there. However, it left me wondering why such ‘innovations’ and acoustic panels aren’t built in as a standard feature in open plan offices. It has the potential to make working life much less stressful.
Have you experienced problems with office noise?
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Featured image adapted from “TBS WF Open Office” by mrdorkesq, CC-BY-2.0.