Nudging your way to less office noise and increased productivity

Are you getting distracted by colleagues talking on the phone or having conversations across the office?! If you are in an open plan office, more than three quarters (78%) will feel the same way.

Read on to find out how nudging can play into reducing noise and interruptions in the office and as a result increase your productivity.

What is noise in an office?

It is not so much that open office spaces are necessarily very loud places. But the sound you do find in open office spaces is ‘conversation’. In fact, it seems to be the very premise for choosing an open plan solution at times; that coworkers can share their knowledge more easily. It just so happens that conversation is one of the most disturbing types of sound there is, researchers agree. Why, you ask? Because conversations unlike other types of noise are intelligible – we can make sense of it, and that is why it is so disturbing.

It is very difficult to tune out conversation, and it is the conversations that are one of the main sources of interruptions for knowledge workers in open plan offices.

Why are interruptions so bad, you may ask? Interruptions have an impact on productivity, because it takes time to come back to what you were doing before you were interrupted. A study from 2014 found that office workers loose up to 86 minutes a day due to interruptions. So, if we can reduce the number of interruptions and noise in the office, we can increase our productivity (and wellbeing).

What can we do about noise in the office?

There are many ways of improving the quality of the sound in the office, including choosing soft furnishings, area rugs, partitions and acoustic solutions. These solutions prevent the sound from travelling too far and are a great step towards a better sound environment in the office.

Using headphones with noise cancellation when doing concentrated work to cancel out noise and to signal that you are unavailable is also a widely used tool in open plan offices. But if using headphones for several hours a day is not an option and you still want to reduce the number of interruptions and noise, while still being part of the open office space – this is where nudging can come in to play.

Nudging ourselves towards less noise

What is nudging really?

Nudging is based in the behavioral sciences which have found that people sometimes act irrationally because of a psychological bias or act out of habits rather than making a rational choice. Or, in other words, people sometimes fail to act according to their own goals or values. Nudging is a way of using these irrational factors to seek a change in behavior through different interventions.

To put it in the context of noise and interruptions in the office: Most knowledge workers who have tried to work in an open office space agree that it is important to be able to concentrate and have uninterrupted time to focus on their work. In fact, according to a 2016 study from Oxford Economics uninterrupted work time was highest on employees wish lists of things that were important to their work environment.

Yet, noise and interruptions from colleagues is a prevailing issue in open plan offices, and more than 50% of employees in that same study complain about noise. So, even though we know from first-hand experience that it is important to have peace and quiet to focus on work, we still interrupt each other in the office.

Can we do something to nudge people towards the rational choice of lowering their voice or taking the conversation elsewhere, so they don’t disturb their colleagues?

One way of nudging yourself and your coworkers towards making the rational choice of not interrupting each other unnecessarily is to make it clear and visible to the naked eye that you are in fact noisy or interrupting. That is the idea behind Noise Guide, which is a small noise indicator, that can be placed on the cubicle wall or at your desk. An ear on the device lights up green, yellow or red depending on the actual noise level.

This way, you are made aware of your noise level immediately, from an impartial third party.

The feedback from users who have tried it so far is that it is a helpful tool to reduce noise levels in the office, because it gives you an instant visual feedback and serves as a tool to achieve self-control regarding noise. It is however not a simple stand-alone fix that will solve all your office noise issues. It is just one tool that can serve as an intervention by making you and your colleagues aware of the noise level right now. What you choose to do with that information is just as important and this is where conversations come back into play, because it is important to talk about what you want your guidelines to be for lowering noise levels and reducing interruptions in your office.

This blog post is a guest post written by Sofie Iversen from SoundEar A/S, who are experts in noise measurement and noise visualization. Jabra and SoundEar have collaborated on designing the Noise Guide for open office spaces as a tool for lowering office noise levels.

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