Workplace distractions? noise and sickness

1 minute read

Sounds, particularly those made by other humans, rank as the No. 1 distraction in the workplace. According to workplace design expert Alan Hedge at Cornell, 74 percent of workers say they face “many” instances of disturbances and distractions from noise.
— Y. Noguchi (2016) What’s More Distracting Than A Noisy Co-Worker? Turns Out, Not Much

Compared to cellular offices, occupants in 2-person offices had 50% more days of sickness absence, occupants in 3–6-person offices had 36% more days of sickness absence, and occupants in open-plan offices (>6 persons) had 62% more days of sickness absence.
— J.H. Pejtersen, et. al. (2011) Sickness absence associated with shared and open-plan offices

These are two interesting data points.

Noise is clearly a disruptor, but below regulated health thresholds it becomes a bit hard to determine how much of that is due to environmental variables (a truly annoying sound from someone or something) and how much is due to internal variables (focus, motivation, interest).

Sickness is more clear cut, and the analysis points out quite clearly how higher the probabilities are of getting sick. Should also be a clear indicator for managers that still force or even just encourage people to get to work even when ill.

Both of them are also interesting as backing the benefits of remote working. Surely, some home offices might be more noisy than offices, however the flexibility that derives for it should compensate for it in most of the cases.