You waited a month for your chatty coworker to go on vacation so you could finally get some work done in silence. But now that he’s gone, you still can’t focus on your work.
Are you lonely? Probably not. You may not realize it, but the constant background noise in the office—hiding just at the lower reaches of your hearing—is sucking the life out of you.
In the natural world, our senses keep us safe by alerting us to danger lurking in the tall grass. At work, though, our perpetual awareness makes it difficult to shut out the buzzing of the fluorescent lights or the humming of the air vents, especially when most of the people in the office have gone to the beach.
As your mind is continually drawn in by these noises, you spend more energy trying to stay focused on your actual work. After a while, you just end up feeling fatigued.
The design of your office plays a large part in how much the buzzing and humming drags you down. Open office plans—with no cubicles and large spaces shared by many—are great for collaboration, but are actually very noisy.
Closed offices and high-walled cubicles are much better at absorbing sounds, but even then, the low-level background noises can sometimes find your ears. The challenge for architects and office planners is to find the magic balance between chatty coworkers and beach-like silence.