Tuesday, May 29, 2012

From Cubicles, Cry for Quiet Pierces Office Buzz - NYTimes.com

office setup
office setup (Photo credit: Rob 'n' Rae)
How many ways can we annoy each other in the office?   Let me counteth the ways!

Noise is one of the chief suspects.   As corporate America tries to save space and, most especially money, they have gone towards the open office, aka, the bull pen.

The walls have come tumbling down in offices everywhere, but the cubicle dwellers keep putting up new ones. They barricade themselves behind file cabinets. They fortify their partitions with towers of books and papers. Or they follow an “evolving law of technology etiquette,” as articulated by Raj Udeshi at the open office he shares with fellow software entrepreneurs in downtown Manhattan.

“Headphones are the new wall,” he said, pointing to the covered ears of his neighbors.

Cubicle culture is already something of a punch line — how many ways can we find to annoy one another all day? — but lately the complaints are being heard by the right people, including managers and social scientists. Companies are redesigning offices, piping in special background noise to improve the acoustics and bringing in engineers to solve volume issues. “Sound masking” has become a buzz phrase.

Scientists, for their part, are measuring the unhappiness and the lower productivity of distracted workers. After surveying 65,000 people over the past decade in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, report that more than half of office workers are dissatisfied with the level of “speech privacy,” making it the leading complaint in offices everywhere.

“In general, people do not like the acoustics in open offices,” said John Goins, the leader of the survey conducted by Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment. “The noisemakers aren’t so bothered by the lack of privacy, but most people are not happy, and designers are finally starting to pay attention to the problem.”


However, the Times article does not go far enough.  Decibel levels in offices can approach jack hammer levels.  When noise goes above 80 decibels, it is a workplace hazard as defined by OSHA or NIOSH, and the workplace is required to provide hearing protection.  Industries that employ workers that use jackhammers already know this; however, word has not trickled down to the cubicle rats.

In particular, noise has a direct link to hypertension.  So if your Blood Pressure is going up because of a   noisy office, you can file a complaint with OSHA.  

Also, I really pity anyone with a high frequency drop off (often due to target shooting, rock music, or other noise) because they do not have the hairs in the ears that block off loud noise.  As a result the loud noise goes right to the brain creating lots of stress.  

Or those poor folks with hyperacusis, a form of auditory processing involving extreme sensitivity to noise.  These poor folks already have been having a hard enough time with the sounds of air conditioning or the hum of fluorescent lamps.