In recent decades, office design trends have pulled away from old school cubicle and closed office layouts and moved towards more open-concept workspaces. And while open offices offer increased transparency, and maybe even increased levels of communication, they also offer something that isn’t very helpful: open office noise!
Over time it’s become apparent that even though they look progressive and cool, open offices might not be practical and they don’t lead to happy or productive employees.
Turns out, it’s hard to focus on getting work done when there’s constant noise and movement buzzing around you all day. People need some form of peace and quiet, either to focus on work itself or to simply clear their heads and regroup. This provides an opportunity for progressive companies to take their open designs and retrofit them to create the perfect hybrid office space. And for many, a crucial part of the new design is a quiet room.
Let’s take a look at 12 design and workflow strategies that can help give your employees an escape from the open office noise, starting with larger more flexible spaces then getting into some creative tips for smaller companies working in tighter quarters.
1. Phone booth
The private office is back, in miniature form! Call it a phone booth, a work cube, a meeting pod, or tape a sign to the door with your own name for it when you’re using it. Whatever the name, it offers some peace and quiet amidst the sometimes chaotic open office workspace.
There are a whole bunch of companies popping up in this space lately. Sizes and prices of the rooms can range greatly, from a one-seater with a small desk area for a couple thousand dollars to booth-style multi-seat designs for over $10,000. They’re soundproof, ventilated, and have charging ports for your laptop and other gear. And since you can basically place them anywhere you want within your office layout, they won’t block the natural light from spreading throughout the office the way old fashioned closed offices around the exterior walls used to.
2. Wellness room
Also referred to as a recharge room, this is meant to be a space where people can go to relax and focus solely on themselves and feeling good. It can be used to support employees’ physical and mental health, like a release valve for stressful work environments, which can have a damaging impact on a person’s well being and productivity. A wellness room could be especially useful during busy times of year when employees may feel the pressure of needing to be at work when they’d rather take a personal day. This way, they know there is a space they can go throughout the day to rest and regroup when they feel the need, while still being present in the office for any pressing work matters.
3. Yoga room
It’s become more widely accepted nowadays, with tools such as standing desks and ergonomic office chairs, that our physical positions and the way we move throughout the workday are crucial to long term health and productivity. Many larger companies have introduced yoga rooms and classes into their workplace, with Apple and Nike leading the way. It’s fair to say that these companies tend to know what they’re doing when it comes to how to treat employees and retain top talent.
Not to view employees as mere commodities, but if you’re looking at the bottom line to determine if such an investment is worth it then you should consider that healthy employees tend to be much better value in every sense than unhealthy ones. The mental and physical benefits of yoga are well documented and these are benefits that could lead to lower health-related and productivity costs for your company in the long run.
4. Meditation room
The ancient practice of mindful meditation has made its way west and is becoming a popular method across North America for cultivating a healthy mental state. And while the practice certainly didn’t originate as a way to be more productive at the office, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it could enhance productivity by helping employees achieve a more centered and less cluttered state of mind. Several global companies, such as Google along with Apple and Nike once again, encourage meditation at the office. Steve Jobs himself was a strong believer in meditation and spoke of it with great reverence throughout his life.
The beautiful thing about a library is that most of us have been programmed since childhood to understand this is a place where you’re supposed to be quiet, and you can expect a prompt “shh!” coming your way if you make too much noise. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to provide novels and magazines for employees to read. It’s more the greater concept and its end result. It can simply be labeled as a reading room or a study area. It’s a place to go, closed off from the office noise, to focus on something that requires your undivided attention. And if reading your latest page-turner after lunch helps you clear your head and refocus for an afternoon meeting, then it’s the perfect place for that, too!
6. Nap room
Sleeping on the job might actually be a good thing, at least in 10-20 minute sessions, that is. Not to be confused with any other type of hangout space, the rules here are simple: come in, lay down, rest, and try not to snore if you can help it. There are a bunch of different ways to do this, from setting up a few twin-sized mattresses to investing in full-on nap pods like Google, NASA and others did, so your employees can recharge and return to work refreshed and ready to go.
7. Prayer room
Inclusion is a challenge across all of society, and a workplace is just another type of society within a certain set of parameters. You can’t force people from different backgrounds or beliefs to get along and work well together, but you can do your best to provide an environment that makes people from all walks of life feel welcome and accepted. Depending on where you work and the demographics of your employees, a prayer room could be an important part of that equation.
But what if you just don’t have the space?
The somewhat ironic elephant in the room here is that if you work for a smaller company or startup then it might be tough to implement some of the above ideas due to budget or space constraints, but that’s okay. You just need to get a little more creative to introduce ways to limit or escape the office noise. Try some of these on for size:
8. Quiet time
In many cultures around the world, it’s quite common to have what’s known as a siesta at some point during the day, often after lunch. Try implementing this in your office. After lunch, it’s quiet time. No meetings and no phone calls. Employees can either take a little snooze at their desk or feel free to step out for a walk or to go do something away from the office for a short break. No extra rooms or investments needed. Just change up the rules and encourage a little flexibility to gain a little bit of quiet.
9. Step out
Following up on the flexibility point, if you work in a part of the world with a nice climate, try encouraging employees to take calls outside, especially personal calls or longer business calls. Maybe you can even set up some picnic tables outside if you have the space to make it easier to step out for a bit. This can work two-fold, as it may allow some breathing room for those that remain in the office working, and also for those who take a call while enjoying some fresh air.
10. Private meetings
Group meetings in open spaces can be brutal for anybody within earshot who isn’t a part of that particular meeting. It’s nearly impossible not to be distracted by it. If you only have one closed room in your entire office, try to dedicate that room for all group meetings or collaborations. Go in the room, chat away, share all your amazing ideas and your thoughtful feedback amongst your given group, then come back out and get back to work. The rest of the office will thank you for it.
11. Localize the noise
Talk to your employees and see how they feel about noise levels and distractions at the office. You might find that certain groups of employees interact with one another far more than others and you can use that to reorganize your office in a way that seats those people closer together or to seat people together who all prefer more quiet and less chatter. Limiting movement and conversation to specific hubs rather than having people running and chatting across the whole office all day could help lower overall noise levels. You could also add privacy panels to work stations to further help reduce the noise from traveling between desks or different work areas.
This should really be a last resort, but if you’re going to do it, then do it right and offer employees a voucher for noise-canceling headphones. Maybe you can even strike up a deal with a client or partner company, depending on what type of business you’re in.
These headphones can be provided for each workstation or at an employees’ request, to be left at the office and used whenever things get a bit too chaotic and somebody needs to block out the noise to work on an assignment. Some employees may already have their own, but don’t assume that everybody does. Think about it like this: not being able to focus on your job because of a noisy work environment can be frustrating enough as it is, but having to shell out $200 of your own money on headphones just so you can actually do your job might be enough for a talented employee to start looking for work elsewhere.
The end game
When considering ways to offset open office noise and the distractions it can cause, think about it as an investment not only in your current employees but in your company as a whole. You could have important customers or clients visiting from out of town, possibly after long travel times. It would be impressive if you could offer not only coffee, but a nice place for them to relax and recharge before or after a meeting. And the simple act of enabling more flexibility for your employees to use different rooms, to step out of the office for a bit or to take a nap if they need it can help create a comforting culture that will make people feel cared for and valued. That’s a worthy investment.
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