This is the time of year when not every small business employee may be feeling “merry and bright.” In fact, some may be feeling more like the Grinch. That’s because noise, especially in open-space work environments, may now be at a higher than usual decibel level with everyone getting into the holiday spirit.
With more and more companies adopting open-space work environments (as many as 70% of U.S. offices have some type of open plan, according to the International Facilities Management Association) in order to foster collaboration, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for employees to escape the din. The result is a decline in productivity. When Ask.com polled over 2,000 office workers a few years ago, 61% cited loud office workers as the number one distraction.
Interruptions are the other downside to the open-space office. In “The solution for open office frustration,” Bryan Borzykowski writing for the BBC cites research at the University of California, Irvine, that found the typical office worker is interrupted about every three minutes and it can take about 23 minutes to resume work following a disruption
Some workers have taken matters into their own hands to stop interruptions in their tracks and turn down office volume. Borzykowski says that headphones often are the first line of defense. They enable employees to convey a “do not disturb” message. (They also give employees the option of listening to their preferred music or white noise.) But when headsets don’t do the trick, employees have become creative, barricading stacks of books or white boards around their desk to create false walls.
Create a quiet space
Even in open-space work environments, small businesses might want to create acoustically sound small offices that someone could use part of the day. Constructing small private booths for their sales and account reps to have more privacy when making calls was part of the planning when SpiceWorks, the social business network for IT, moved from its original office spaces to a larger building to accommodate growth. SpiceWorks also provided sales and account reps with Plantronics noise-canceling wireless headsets to use with desk phones. (See: SpiceWorks adds a dash of PLT to spice things up with employees, IT and customers.)
Establish office etiquette policy
Get the team on one page about noise and distractions with a written policy. Ask for suggestions to get everyone involved. Among the rules include:
Keep your voice down: That applies to conversations on the phone and off.
Block out background noise: When employees are on a call, use noise-canceling headsets to block out background noise to ensure that they hear the person on the other end of the phone and are not distracted.
Turn off speaker phones: Speaker phones tend to encourage everyone to speak louder. Not only will your team member be heard so will the person on the other end of the call.
Turn down ringer volumes and notifications: Whether your team is using a desk phone, mobile, tablet or the computer for a call, turn down volumes, limit the number of rings, put mobiles on vibrate, and don’t listen to voicemail on speaker
Avoid interruptions: Just because someone isn’t surrounded by four or three walls doesn’t extend an open invitation to try to engage them in conversation when someone feels like having a chat. Remind your team to be considerate of others’ time and need to be productive. If someone is focused on their work, let them be.
Private conversations should stay private: Not only for the sake of keeping noise down, but private conversations are not appropriate to have in the middle of the office. Advise employees to use conference rooms or small information meeting areas for matters that require privacy.
Open-space work environments may lend themselves to more impromptu collaboration and brainstorms, but they do pose noise problems. Dealing with noise upfront will help small business employees be more productive and more positive.