By Sue Tumelty, Founder and Executive Director of HR Dept
Do you have an office buzz? Do you thrive in hustle and bustle? Or, does it drive you to distraction?
The office fizz may be a good indication of a flourishing culture, with business booming and teamwork in action, but it might also be causing some of your employees to feel stressed.
Misophonia is a condition where particular sounds can trigger extreme feelings, like panic, rage or anxiety, making it hard to think straight. Everyone is unique, and people can function differently depending on the level of noise they are exposed to.
So, how can we tweak our workspaces to support our staff’s needs and keep everyone working as productively as possible?
Look at the working environment
Start by looking at the workplace and ensure it is reflective of the type of business you want or need to run. Do you want it to be quiet, or would you prefer it to have an energy that will generate noise as a by-product?
You may not have much choice – as some industries will demand a certain ambience: think a funeral parlour vs a call centre. For many, though, you will have some flexibility to cater to different working styles.
Do you want open-plan areas where people can come together to collaborate, problem-solve and bond? Do you need quiet areas or private booths where people can talk freely without bothering others?
Assessing your workplace is an opportunity to make conscious decisions about its mood. Do you want background music playing, and if so, who chooses the tunes? Optimising seating plans, heating and ventilation, will add to staff comfort.
Talk to your employees
Explore with individual employees ways in which they can work comfortably; they know their needs best!
Most people will be able to acclimatise themselves to working in noisy conditions. In other words, acknowledging the hubbub and gently encouraging them to give it a go for a few weeks might be all they need. If they need more support, though, here are some ideas:
Headphones are one device that many office workers need no second invitation to reach for to shut out the outside world. Some may choose noise-cancelling ones, or just earplugs, while others opt for music.
While listening to music is generally proven not be as effective for concentration as silence would be, the very reason we are discussing this is that you do not have silence to begin with – so it could help. The genre of music and the type of task being performed will have a bearing on whether this is a successful tactic!
Noise levels may not be consistently high throughout the day. Could people who prefer the quiet have the opportunity to come in earlier so they can have focus time to concentrate before the office fires up?
It is not just noise that can be distracting – interruptions from emails, phone calls, and messaging apps can easily derail the most conscientious of workers. Consider some training around time management here.
What about noise when working from home?
If you have staff who work from home, the summer holidays may be a time when a once quiet home office becomes overrun with noisy children!
Make it clear when discussing work-from-home arrangements that, when on the clock for you, employees need to have space to concentrate.
To protect your productivity, it is important to make clear that a working-from-home arrangement is not childcaring time. If the work rate is dropping off, take time to explore the barriers to effective home working with them and see if you can help. You could consider asking staff to show they have a strategy for childcare and maintaining a productive and distraction free home environment.
Some outside help
We all need a bit of help. If you are struggling to create the right workplace culture or need help managing staff who are complaining about a noisy workplace, consider contacting Occupational Health providers or HR experts.
Discuss with your business network and friends to see how they approach keeping their staff focused, comfortable and productive.