Have you ever had to reread a passage over and over because someone near you was speaking too loudly for you to concentrate? Or, perhaps you’ve tried (and failed) to write a paper in the presence of a chatty friend? If you’ve been in situations like this, you know that noise can greatly affect performance.

Productivity dips by up to 66 percent if you can hear someone talking while reading or writing, according to a TED blog post. This is especially evident in the workplace. If your office is open and filled with loud workers, you probably don’t get as much work done as you could if it were quieter.

Without building a whole new office space, there are a few things you can do to help stay productive in a loud environment.

  1. Wear earplugs or headphones.

Earplugs are one of the best options for workers who are easily distracted. They drown out background noise when the office is particularly loud and help the brain concentrate.  You can use noise cancelling headphones to give you complete silence or you can play soft music. Depending on how sensitive you are to noise, you can create a playlist which suits the mood or tasks you need to focus on.  Mellow tunes or meditation music can actually help the mind stay on task. You might even find yourself feeling more inspired or happier while listening to music.

  1. Designate a quiet area.

Open workspaces, while great in design and fostering collaboration, can be a huge distraction and lead to declined productivity. Conversations flow freely and loudly with this layout, so be cautious if you’re working on an important task. If you can’t focus enough to get your work done, find a quiet space or area to work instead.  Even if you have to share the space with another worker or two, it will be less noisy than the entire office.

Additionally, certain times of the day might be louder than others. You can plan your assignments according to the volume of the office. Keep all your strategic and deep-thinking projects to times when the office is less crowded – this could be the early morning hours or anytime after 5pm.  

  1. Confront the issue.

When all else fails, be upfront. Executives especially should step up, taking aside those who are causing the distractions and being honest with them before it gets out of hand.  It is up to the leaders in the organization to set the culture for the department, and it is best if the manager can set very clear expectations on unnecessary noise. Use monthly or weekly staff meetings as a time to discuss noise levels and encourage people to speak openly. There may be a solution that everyone can come to together.

Sometimes, office noise really can get out of hand. And trust me, no one wants to be the killjoy and tell everyone to quiet down. Most of the time, people don’t realize how loud they’re being, and they’ll probably appreciate a gentle reminder.  Take a deep breath, put a smile on your face and use a calm tone of voice and if possible, even join in on the chatter for a quick moment. Show you care what they’re talking about, and then politely ask if they would mind lowering their voices a little, or maybe go to another area of the office to continue their conversation.

If you feel uncomfortable confronting a co-worker, you should confide in a supervisor, explaining the noise issue isn’t personal, but you can’t perform to your highest potential because of it.

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