The Woes of Office Noise

My husband is a PhD candidate at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.  Before we moved to Scotland, it was easy to romanticize the experience- sightseeing, bumming around castles, counting sheep on the grassy hillsides, and writing up a speedy dissertation (called a thesis here).  And while we have done a lot of traipsing around the UK and our fair share of sheep-counting, the thesis side of things has not been quite as expected. One of the main surprises has been the actual work space….or lack thereof.  Not too shocking is that no one has his or her own office space.  As such, at least 2, if not 3 or 4, students share one working area.  Fortunately, many of these office dwellers are friends and share topics, though not all.  However, these shared offices are all in the same building, which ends up adding up to quite a few students.  From office to office, you have men and women, young and, um, older, not mention lots of different temperaments.

Dealing with Noise

All that is to say that noise has become quite a problem in my husband’s building.  Sometimes it’s the productive workers frustrated by the talkative, less focused workers.  Other times, it’s the street noise as people like me walk by with our children and are too lazy to actually call our spouses and therefore just shout up to their windows.  And, last but not least, there are the grouchy students who are irritated by group lunches or coffee breaks in the common area that is situated to their work areas.  All in all, the noise adds up, and it is threatening to destroy relationships and kill deadlines and goals.

What’s the solution?  Contrary to what administration seems to believe, sending out a group email telling people they can’t eat together in the common area is not the solution.  Why not try a less ridiculous option, such as a sound machine?  Individuals could use a desktop sound machine when noise is a problem and turn it off when it’s not.  That way personal relationships could be saved, and people could still get work done, too.  Win-win.

If office noise is a problem for you and your studies, try a sound machine for better focus.

Distractions & Sound Machines

If you’re reading this, it probably means that you’re distracted at work.  Don’t worry (well, you kind of should worry at least a little bit), you are not alone.  The average worker suffers from distraction at least 2 hours every day.  While internet and cell phones account for some of this distraction, surprisingly enough they are not the main culprits.  What is, you ask?  Office noise, namely conversational distraction.  Whether it’s your own conversation or someone else’s, office chatting is just plain distracting because it perks your ears up and your mind off work.  Once you’ve turned your attention back to work, you’ve lost both time and your train of thought.

How can you deal with conversational distraction?  Well, besides setting some personal boundaries and maybe having some tough boundaries with colleagues, there is something you can do that can help you literally tune out many distractions: a sound machine.

Sound machines are great because, unlike music, the white noise employed by sound machines doesn’t add to the distraction. As fun as it to jam to your favorite songs, most of the time, that music just makes focused working harder.  In contrast, a sound machine drowns out background noise so that you can focus on work instead of co-worker chatter or gossip. And don’t worry, you don’t have to blare the machine to achieve a sound barrier.  White noise is effective at a low level.  And just so we’re clear, this isn’t just a nice idea; studies show that they can help you keep your focus and feel less stressed.  More specifically, studies have found that offices that utilized white noise showed an average of 48% improvement in their ability to focus on tasks, a 51% improvement in elimination of distractions (especially overheard conversations), and a 27% improvement in lowered stress levels.

  • A small portable option for a white noise machine is the Sound Oasis Travel White Noise Therapy System.  I like to think of this as the Mighty Mouse of the sound machines. It is tiny in stature, but can beat up all the big distractions keeping you from doing what you are supposed to be doing–working. Even better, since it’s portable, you can take it home with you to help you get better sleep at night.

  • If you don’t want a portable option, the Sound Oasis Deluxe Office White Noise System is a nice option. It’s not as small as the travel sound machine, but it does have a lot more features, including 20 main sounds & 5 mix sounds create 120 sound environment possibilities.
  • If you aren’t convinced and would just like to try it out, you could try a free online white noise generator. Just keep it open in a background browser window and you’ll be well on your way to working–without as much distraction and stress.

Sound machines have been shown to improve focus and tune out distraction.  It’s an easy fix for a costly problem at work.