The return of office noise?

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by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Helen Hodgetts and Nick Perham in their article on returning to the workplace cite a poll taken in 2020 that found most workers want to continue working from home even after some of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have been removed. One of the reasons they note for why workers may want to stay home is that the home may have provided a quieter environment. Yet, in conversations I have had with many New Yorkers working from home, I have heard complaints about being disrupted by neighbor noise as well as noise from nearby construction sites.

Hodgetts and Perham describe how shared office working spaces can result in “more interruptions and noise to contend with,” resulting in greater stress for the workers affected as well as an “increase in the chance of errors and omissions.” In addition to affecting task performance, a study by Evans and Johnson did indeed find noisy offices can increase stress that could contribute to health problems such as heart disease. The study also found motivation was adversely impacted.

Hodgetts and Perham say that spaces can be set up to reduce noise. They suggest that noise-cancelling headphones may be used to block out background noise. Of course, reminding your co-workers to be “less noisy” may be helpful, too.

The authors note that returning to the workplace will require an adjustment period. One would hope, however, that those who found the quiet of their homes positively affected their productivity would be in the forefront of advocating for a less noisy work environment.

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