Workplace noise

The cost of noise disruptions

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Katherine Martinko, Treehugger, writes about how “blocking out the noise of the world” can make us more productive and creative.

Do you remember the Microsoft study on productivity and the cost of noise disruptions? I certainly do. Microsoft and several other big tech companies convened a meeting several years ago to discuss how to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. All the experts were there, led by some people from MIT.

I remember because they awarded my partner and me a contract to do further research (our original work had been for Apple Computer) on this subject and we presented it at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference later.

Here’s the point in a single quote from the above article:

After being interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the task you were working on, according to a Microsoft study. It can take even longer to get to a ‘flow state,’ alternatively called ‘deep work.’ These terms refer to the concentrated frame of mind you’re in when immersed in a task and time just seems to fly. It’s also when you do your best work.

What more do we need to know? The relentless shift toward open landscape offices has been underway for decades—because it reduces the cost of corporate office space. Basically, take away walls and doors and even cubicles and you can reduce the space-per-person well below 200 sq ft., resulting in huge savings and greater “flexibility.” But in the end, many people now work in essentially raw, unfinished, factory-like spaces with concrete floors, temporary tables, and virtually no privacy—and that, we are told, is supposed to result in what they call “teamwork.”

We’ve written about the bane of open offices before, but the fact that Microsoft weighed in on the issue is significant. We agree with the author of the above piece that it’s important, if not essential, to find and hang onto your own “bliss station”—a place where distractions are removed and you’re at your most productive when you need to be.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The cost of noise disruptions

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Katherine Martinko, Treehugger, writes about how “blocking out the noise of the world” can make us more productive and creative.

Do you remember the Microsoft study on productivity and the cost of noise disruptions? I certainly do. Microsoft and several other big tech companies convened a meeting several years ago to discuss how to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. All the experts were there, led by some people from MIT.

I remember because they awarded my partner and me a contract to do further research (our original work had been for Apple Computer) on this subject and we presented it at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference later.

Here’s the point in a single quote from the above article:

After being interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the task you were working on, according to a Microsoft study. It can take even longer to get to a ‘flow state,’ alternatively called ‘deep work.’ These terms refer to the concentrated frame of mind you’re in when immersed in a task and time just seems to fly. It’s also when you do your best work.

What more do we need to know? The relentless shift toward open landscape offices has been underway for decades—because it reduces the cost of corporate office space. Basically, take away walls and doors and even cubicles and you can reduce the space-per-person well below 200 sq ft., resulting in huge savings and greater “flexibility.” But in the end, many people now work in essentially raw, unfinished, factory-like spaces with concrete floors, temporary tables, and virtually no privacy—and that, we are told, is supposed to result in what they call “teamwork.”

We’ve written about the bane of open offices before, but the fact that Microsoft weighed in on the issue is significant. We agree with the author of the above piece that it’s important, if not essential, to find and hang onto your own “bliss station”—a place where distractions are removed and you’re at your most productive when you need to be.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Healthcare Acoustics Project (HAP, a division of Quiet Communities Inc.), American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association and the American Institute of Architects. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA publication “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Open plan offices, what are they good for?

Photo credit: K2 Space licensed under CC BY 2.0

Absolutely nothing. And so the collaboration lie falls, as research by two Harvard student researchers shows that “although companies are increasingly calling for barriers in the workplace to be removed, staff are less likely to speak to fellow employees when they can constantly see them.”

Sound waves might damage soldiers’ brains

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This NPR report discusses brain damage from concussive blasts when shoulder-fired rockets are launched. This isn’t surprising. An animal study reported structural, genetic, and biochemical changes in rat brains when they were exposed to loud noise.

Most civilians aren’t exposed to blast injuries, but we are exposed to lots of noise.

The Marines discussed in this study didn’t have a choice about noise exposure.

We do.

Remember: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Indoor cycling classes are bad for your ears

Photo credit: jalexartis licensed under CC by 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Vox documents that sound levels in many indoor spinning or cycling classes exceed safe limits to prevent hearing loss. This is an occupational safety and health issues for the instructors, who have many more hours of exposure than those who exercise, but the background music is loud enough to endanger the hearing of those just exercising for an hour or two each week.

One wonders why the state and federal occupational safety and health inspectors haven’t taken action. Maybe this report will spur an inquiry.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

How to deal with distracting conversations in an open plan office

Applying “local acoustic treatment” in open plan offices, says the Acoustical Society of America, “may be able to provide relief in the future.”  What is “local acoustic treatment?” Science Daily reports:

To make these environments less noisy, while still providing acoustic support for speaking and listening, researchers are creating small “acoustic islands” using high-back chairs and retroreflective ceilings to direct sound to help you hear your own conversations — not others’ — better.

Or we could look back–when life was quieter–and embrace these things called “offices.”  One hopes that eventually the cost of mitigating the noise in open plan offices makes them so untenable that reason prevails and people can have a small quiet space to get their work done.

The newest “it” device for open plan offices?

This might help.

Cisco is marketing headsets to help workers “stay focused in noisy environments.”  Businesses used to offer something to help their employees focus on work in the past, it was called an office.

But offices are expensive, the bean counters moan. Well, productivity takes a hit in noisy workspaces, as does trying to mitigate the noise with gadgets and quiet rooms. Just the earphone and headphone market alone was worth $11.68 billion in 2015 and the “number is expected to reach $18.2 billion by 2023.”

Which is why Cisco, smelling money, is manufacturing headsets to help workers “stay focused in noisy environments,” marketing them as “ideal for people who work side by side in contact centers and open spaces.” Says TechTarget, “[t]he move may be evidence that vendors are looking to capitalize on open-office plans.”

You think?

So take a look at the latest thing du jour designed to cure the open plan noise problem, but never stop dreaming of the return to sanity and sensibility.

Musician wins landmark case over damaged hearing

Photo credit: MITO SettembreMusica licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The BBC reports that a viola player who suffered a life-changing hearing injury at a rehearsal of a Wagner opera is entitled for compensation for his injury.

This is the first time that acoustic shock has been recognized as a compensable work-related condition.

A one-time exposure to extremely loud noise–often caused by a blast injury but possible from other loud noise–physically disrupts the structures in the inner ear. In many if not most cases, they can’t recover from the trauma.

Even if the noise isn’t 130 decibels, it can still cause lifelong hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis.

I have been unable to find more than anecdotal reports in the medical literature of this type of auditory damage, and in science the operative phrase is “the plural of anecdotes isn’t data,” but we all need to be aware of the dangers of noise.

As violist Chris Goldscheider unfortunately learned, if it sounds too loud, it is too loud.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

 

Color us surprised!

Turns out that people like to have private phone conversations in private spaces. Go figure! The New York Times looks at this phenomenon in a piece titled: Dial P for Privacy: The Phone Booth Is Back.

Naturally the phone booths highlighted in the article aren’t on the street. Rather, they are expensive ($3995 and higher) add-ons companies have had to squeeze into their open plan office spaces for those times that co-workers want less “collaboration” and more privacy. Something that used to be accommodated with these things called offices.

If phone booths are back, might offices be around the corner? [Not holding our breath.]

Thanks to Jeanine Botta for the link.