Turns Out, Not Much. Yuki Noguchi reports on co-worker noise for the NPR, presenting a couple of individual accounts of co-workers behaving badly. As you are no doubt aware, the problem is universal, with “[s]ounds, particularly those made by other humans, rank[ing] as the No. 1 distraction in the workplace.” As we have reported before, noise in the workplace has been made worse by the misguided “popularity” of open offices. They are popular with the corporate executives who impose them on an increasingly demoralized workforce, seen as a rational money-saving move because lower real estate costs are easier to quantify than decreased employee morale and productivity. And worker morale and productivity do suffer, as Noguchi notes that the “University of California’s Center for the Built Environment has a study showing workers are happier when they are in enclosed offices and less likely to take sick days.”
So, what can be done? “There are solutions,” says workplace design expert Alan Hedge. So what are those solutions? Because the “trend toward open offices and hard office furniture makes noise distraction worse,” Hedge suggests that “adding carpet, drapes and upholstery can help.” He also recommends removing cubicle walls entirely, as they “provide the illusion of sound privacy, but actually make people less aware of the noises they create.” Or you could try the advice given in this Business Insider article: How to tell a noisy coworker to shut up without making them hate you. A quick scan reveals the piece should be titled, “Things that sound like solutions but aren’t because no one will ever do this.”
Finally, there is also another option: bring back offices and let people have a quiet space to do their work. Just a suggestion.