Why Workplace Noise Affects Certain Employees and How Flexible Space Helps – Officio
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We’re all guilty of getting overly annoyed at a workspace neighbour who is loudly chewing gum or rustling a packet of crisps. And it may be that on different days in different circumstances we have a higher tolerance to this type of thing. But for some people, workspace noise is a real problem causing loss in productivity as well as a damaging impact on their wellbeing.

But have we ever thought why this could be and what we can do to make this easier on certain members of the team? And what about those people who thrive on the buzz of a lively workspace to get things done?

Well Officio have done a little research and it turns out flexible workspaces could be the perfect solution for every personality type! Winner.

The Most Annoying Noises in the Workplace

Since it was introduced to the world back in 1904, the open plan workspace has been evolving and developing at pace. Today, the technology, homely designs and collaborative nature of our open plan workspaces have made them a breeding ground for annoying noises.

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Ring tones, printers, photocopiers and enthusiastic team chatter can all grind away at us, particularly with the added stress of looming deadlines. But which noises should you really try to avoid if the person next to you seems a little tense today? The workspace provider, Regus, conducted a short survey. They found that the most annoying office noise is firstly the sound of conversation, closely followed by coughing, sneezing, sniffing and whistling.

So why do such small noises irritate us so much and why are some people able to cope with them better than others?

Why Workspace Noise Makes Some of us Tick

According to an article by the BBC, it’s all to do with our psychological make-up and personality types. Introvert personalities are in fact most likely to struggle with common workspace noise. Anything that increases their level of arousal, like music or chatter, could be overwhelming. On the other, hand extroverts are inherently under-stimulated. They will seek out noisier environments in order to increase their level of arousal.

As well as the extrovert/introvert theory, research suggests that the more neurotic a person is, the more affected by background noise they will be. Certain people also have low ‘inhibitory control’ – they find it difficult to control their impulses – leading to a lower tolerance of workspace noise.

Aversion to workspace noise can be so strong in certain people that it qualifies as a condition. Coined Misophonia, the condition is a newly recognised disorder in which every day sounds can trigger extreme anxiety, rage or panic. Millennials seem particularly effected by the condition being most likely to wear headphones or leave their desks in search of somewhere quieter to work.

The Trouble with the Brian

A highly prominent theory about why these noises are not only irritating but also so distracting is that our brains are unable to switch off to what is going on around us. Even if we are not directly paying attention to the noises around us, they still infiltrate our consciousness, causing serious distractions to the task in hand.

Nick Perham, a psychologist at Cardiff Metropolitan University has a particularly convincing theory as to why we’re so distracted by a noisy office. He believes that ‘the way our brains handle the information that’s important for completing certain tasks and the way they deal with background noise is somehow in conflict.

However, with this said, there is a phenomenal amount of variability in in what people can tolerate, plus the level of distraction varies in relation to the activity in hand.

For example, Nigel Oseland, PhD CPsychol, discovered that introverts find simple tasks more challenging in noisy situations and complicated tasks almost impossible in loud spaces. On the other hand, extroverts find simple tasks almost impossible in quiet surroundings and struggle with complicated tasks where there is no background noise to stimulate them.

How do Flexible Workspaces Help?

Design features within many flexible workspaces of today find a way to cater to the needs of both extroverts and introverts. White noise technology, sound absorbing materials and differing ‘zones’ all help to create the perfect balance for collaboration and productivity.

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Having breakout space consisting of comfortable sofas and arm chairs or small meeting rooms with plenty of stimulation allows people to escape from the noise and really get into the zone. Alternatively, the large open spaces, designed to get people talking, generating a little bit of buzz between teams ensures that the extroverts can also thrive.

As well as spaces to work, modern flexible offices also provide spaces to relax and destress. Amy Meister, President of MedExpress Worksite Solutions, says that “prolonged exposure to certain noises in the office—especially when paired with the stress of making that deadline—can actually trigger a stress response in the body and cause health issues like high blood pressure and hypertension.” In order to combat this, settings including mediation rooms, yoga studios, gyms and games rooms are all common features in flexible workspaces.


If your team are in need of a workspace that offers them freedom, flexibility and the chance to escape, get in touch with us here at Officio. We have hundreds of workspaces available and our service is free of charge.