Science is bearing out what we all know to be true from our own experience: Noise levels in the workplace are a notable deterrent to productivity. Independent studies of business environments that employ some method of “sound masking” reported productivity gains of 8% to 38%, stress reduction of up to 27%, and job satisfaction increases of 125% to 174%, according to an audio industry report. And according to Scientific American, even low-level background noise disrupts concentration and produced damaging effects on the brain, e.g.:
“Several studies have indicated that stress resulting from ongoing white noise can induce the release of cortisol, a hormone that helps to restore homeostasis in the body after a bad experience. Excess cortisol impairs function in the prefrontal cortex—an emotional learning center that helps to regulate ‘executive’ functions such as planning, reasoning and impulse control.”
As per findings by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, ambient noise also affects people’s health by increasing general stress levels and aggravating sensitive conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary disease, peptic ulcers and migraine headaches. Continued exposure does not lead to habituation; in fact, the effects worsen.
Unfortunately, this environment is the definition of the prevailing, open workplace—the same design that accounts for billions of dollars’ worth of office furnishing purchases per year, as reported in Fortune magazine. It’s the most prevalent type of workplace layout in the marketplace. That leaves the typical employer with a problem: The modern office environment is inadvertently counterproductive, even unhealthy.
Without causing a revolution in office design, how should companies combat these deterrents, especially in long-established spaces? Audio headset technology is an often overlooked element of the workplace infrastructure, yet it offers tremendous control over the level of distraction and ambient noise that impedes the communication and collaboration that an open workspace was ironically conceived to deliver. Too many unified communication deployments feature low-end headset technology in order to contain costs, unaware that superior audio technologies exist at competitive price points. The decision to purchase low-quality audio solutions is one that many technology resellers—and their business owner customers—are making unnecessarily, and to their own detriment.
High-end headsets, especially those with superior noise-canceling capabilities and other productivity-enhancing features, are among the few technologies that can mitigate the office noise that causes this documented reduction in employee performance. Technologies exist that can modulate distractions not only from voices and general noise escalation, but also that reduce sounds right down to crinkling pages and keyboard noises. In addition, a superior audio headset will offer design elements that extend much longer-wearing comfort to users in a call center or office environment, reducing the physical duress that accelerates fatigue and impedes the wearer’s ability to focus.
When making strategic audio purchases, both business owners and the integrators who sell these technologies need to factor in the less obvious but vital costs of sub-par headsets, e.g., loss of performance, unsatisfactory customer service delivery, and lower job satisfaction. These are the unfortunate byproducts of the elevated stress, ongoing physical irritation and reduced concentration that occurs in open-space environments without the aid of premium audio.
Another factor of the modern office environment is the trend toward a mobile workforce. Employees on-the-go often navigate challenging surroundings varying from loud subways and other public transportation, to windy outdoor streets and moving vehicles. Superior wireless or Bluetooth® headsets have been engineered to address these problems, including technologies that utilize multiple directional microphones. Sophisticated, integrated applications can modulate between these multiple inputs and utilize whichever channel produces the most intelligible sound for the listener.
Even in open indoor spaces, premium headsets offer dongle combinations that empower workers to travel from place to place within their environments, sometimes up to 590 feet, depending upon the solution. This allows them to retrieve documentation, confer with colleagues in other areas, or simply vary their surroundings during a call. Such freedom not only accommodates more fluid collaboration—which an open-space environment was conceived to promote—but alleviates the health disadvantages of being a sedentary worker. We’ve all heard the recent media reports. Sitting for hours at a time has been likened to smoking as a deterrent one’s physical condition.
The adage “you get what you pay for” is therefore not limited to the consumer sector. The conclusion is the same, whether you are a technology integrator or a business owner who wants to maximize both the workspace and the workforce: Superior audio technology must be more seriously considered in telecommunications deployments. It puts control of the modern office environment back into the hands of the people who manage and work in these spaces, making the open-office environment function as the collaborative and versatile setting it was intended—and helping technology resellers deliver more effective overall solutions.
Download this article [PDF], The Sound of Productivity: Improving the Workplace Through Superior Audio