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Noisy Coworkers And Other Sounds Are Top Distraction in Workplace, Study Says (npr.org) 290

Sounds, especially those made by other humans, have ranked as the top distraction in the workplace, according to design expert Alan Hedge of Cornell. A staggering 74 percent of workers say they face "many" instances of disturbances and distractions from noise. Hedge says the noise is generally coming from another person, though it's much more disturbing when it's a machine that is making it. NPR reports: The popularity of open offices has exacerbated the problem. The University of California's Center for the Built Environment has a study showing workers are happier when they are in enclosed offices and less likely to take sick days. This does not bode well for some workers facing cold and flu season, when hacking coughs make the rounds. [...] Rue Dooley, an adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management, says HR professionals often call in, asking how to manage co-worker complaints about various bodily noises.
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Noisy Coworkers And Other Sounds Are Top Distraction in Workplace, Study Says

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @02:40PM (#53156769)

    Thankfully the people who come to work sick and the office culture that promotes sick people coming to work are blameless.

  • tell them that they can keep there job if they don't use the letter "E" in saying why they should keep it!

  • Door slams (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Latent Heat ( 558884 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @02:44PM (#53156801)

    There are people who seem to think that door slams, loud racking sounds of turned door knobs and juicy Ka-chunks of door latches engaging are just fine in a scholarly/academic office environment.

    The main floor of our Engineering Library has a door that is going "Rack! Ka-chunk" a couple times a minute from persons passing through to other floors, all day long.

    Spent 2 full days in a conference room with colleagues from numerous other institutions working on behalf of a Federal agency in Arlington, VA.

    Not one door slam the entire time. Do the Federal agency people know something about concentrating on work that state universities do not?

    • I'd advise a night op where you remove said door and hide it in a damp basement, by the time they find it, it will be nothing but a layer of slime on the floor.

  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @02:44PM (#53156803)

    When I came to the USA 15 years ago (from the UK), I was amazed at the ubiquity of cube farms everywhere.
    As far as I can tell, its actually only management that like cube farms (or presumably more accurately, the $$$$ saved). Nearly all the residents actually would much prefer single offices and the associated peace and quiet that allows you to concentrate and be more productive, yet the myth stubbornly persists that cubes are the "popular choice".

    • The only time it became a choice at one company that I worked for was when management wanted to replace the tall cube walls with short cube walls that allowed everyone to see everyone else. Bad enough that we had to work in bullpens, but no one wanted shorter cubicle walls. Management backed off and later decided to shut down the office to save money before the company filed for bankruptcy.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @03:04PM (#53156973)

      Cube farms are going away. The current trend in open floor plans is desks with no partitions at all. HR says it's because millennials like it and all the "cool" tech companies have them. More likely it is cheaper than cubes and it is easier to watch everyone. It is really distracting to catch all the movement in your peripheral vision but its not like anyone in leadership cares what their employees think

      • by chipschap ( 1444407 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @03:12PM (#53157045)

        And this, of course, applies to everyone but management, who naturally "must" have their individual offices.

        • The real question that should be asked is what kind of work environment did, say, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Jack Dorsey etc. have when they did the heavy lifting of originating their software concepts.

          My bet would be quiet university dorm rooms or similar. In other words the opposite of the open plan office.

          (Things that make you go Hmmm department).

          • My bet would be quiet university dorm rooms or similar. In other words the opposite of the open plan office.

            When I worked for a moving company as a PC disconnect/reconnect tech in 2011, Mark Zuckerberg's desk was out in the open and looked like any other desk on the floor. I don't recall seeing any private offices.

            • Same with Intel founder, Andy Grove

              Grove's office was an 8 by 9 ft (2.4 by 2.7 m) cubicle like the other employees, as he disliked separate "mahogany-paneled corner offices." He states, "I've been living in cubicles since 1978 — and it hasn't hurt a whole lot."

            • by lgw ( 121541 )

              When "everyone gets the same space", senior managers have a desk for show, and spend all day in a permanently-reserved conference room bigger than their office would have been. (It's not really a scam, even, but all senior managers do is meetings anyway, and at a certain point everyone else comes to you for meetings.)

        • by BigT ( 70780 )

          but management, who naturally "must" have their individual offices.

          Which they then congregate outside of to loudly talk with each other, various minions, visitors, etc. Right next to my cube. Or, my favorite: conference call on speakerphone with the door open. Then they get indignant when I close the door for them. Especially if I use superglue to keep it closed.

          And using the speakerphone in the cube farm should be a capital offense.

      • Yep. Our building did this earlier this year. They pretended to ask our opinion on the matter (they had an 'express your thoughts' board up for a few weeks until it suddenly disappeared one day after 99.9% of the comments were negative with a few suspicious sounding positive comments mixed in) but we later found out that the plan was already in motion long before that board went up. So far they've done the upper floor and the response has been resoundingly negative. People complain that there's no priva
        • by PRMan ( 959735 )
          You can call OSHA about the bathroom situation.
        • at least we have 5' desks...
          with little (pointless and ugly) dividers. I simply took an edge (which still has a 'corner'-ish desk) and spewed crap onto the desk next to mine before anyone selected it.

      • by torkus ( 1133985 )

        Yup.

        It's not so much that the cool tech companies have open offies. It's that they just buy desks and can't afford fancy cubicle furniture.

        Is there some benefit to open office seating? Yes. For small groups in their own, partitioned area sure. Small teams workign together can collaborate easily.

        Opening the whole office like that? Hell no. There's no real collaboration across 5 rows of desks without shouting and interrupting everyone in between. I've been through the transition from cubes to more open

      • Open plan is a complete concentration killer. Thank goodness I can work from home.

      • Cube farms are going away. The current trend in open floor plans is desks with no partitions at all. HR says it's because millennials like it and all the "cool" tech companies have them. More likely it is cheaper than cubes and it is easier to watch everyone. It is really distracting to catch all the movement in your peripheral vision but its not like anyone in leadership cares what their employees think

        I doubt HR has consulted any millennials and I doubt the 'cool' tech companies have large rooms with no partitions at all--though if they do I suppose that explains so, so much about all these data breeches. It's my understanding that physical access makes the task of breaking into a computer system distinctly easier, and a large office where it's child's play to walk in and get access to pretty much any computer you want would make this pretty easy.

        It's not even like it'd be terribly hard to be unnoticed

    • I'll take a cube form over what I have now...
      We just moved to an open plan office from bullpen cubes (~20x20 ft cubes with 4 people per cube).
      I worked corporate for 20 years and the vast bulk of that was cube farms or labs.

    • Not only are our half height cube walls WAY more expensive than stick and drywall ($1200 per wall, 4 per cube 8 cubes in our area) but we have no privacy. The big issue with a lack of privacy is that 3 of us work with instructors and discuss student grades, etc. Which leads to possible FERPA violations - our dept. secretary and work study students have no business hearing me talk about a students grades with an instructor. And, since I am an adjunct instructor as well as a admin/professional employee, I d

    • by __Paul__ ( 1570 )

      A cube farm would be a luxury to what we get in Australia; when I started my current role, the norm was half-height walls between everyone, which you could just see over.

      Shortly after that, a new manager of a team that we worked closely with decided it would be a wonderful idea to remove those walls so that the teams could work "even more closely together". I made it very clear that if they did that to me, I would not be hanging around.

      Sadly, since then, all of those relatively large desks have been replace

    • I remember watching Andy Grove promoting this at intel. Even the managers didn't have offices.

      Grove's office was an 8 by 9 ft (2.4 by 2.7 m) cubicle like the other employees, as he disliked separate "mahogany-paneled corner offices." He states, "I've been living in cubicles since 1978 — and it hasn't hurt a whole lot."[15] Preferring this egalitarian atmosphere, he thereby made his work area accessible to anyone who walked by. There were no reserved parking spaces, and Grove parked wherever there was a space.[14] This atmosphere at work was partly a reflection of his personal life. Some who have known him, such as venture capitalist Arthur Rock, have stated that "he has no airs." Grove has lived modestly without expensive cars or an airplane.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • I've worked in all three common styles: office, open and cube. I'd take a cubicle over the open plan any day of the week. I'd LOVE a cubicle. I had plenty of personal desk space, a place to put my things and hang my coat, and just enough privacy to get work done if I needed to concentrate. Cubicles are amazing.

      Offices are better, no doubt. They're everything a cubicle is and more. But the open floor plan is so fucking bad that cubicles seem like luxury by comparison. Given that there are realistically only

    • Cubes aren't inherently bad. I have been in offices which use cubes which have been lovely and I have been in offices which use cubes which have been shitty and the difference is very simple: did they choose cubes for flexible plan seating, or did they choose cubes because they couldn't afford walls? If the latter, they use short, cheap cube walls that do little to nothing to block noise and which everyone can trivially "groundhog" over. If the former, then they have 8' tall, sound-deadening cube walls. The

  • I can relate (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    In my last job there was this retard sales guy who never graduated high school, but would constantly kiss the business owner's puckered butthole, and to make himself sound important he would hover around the office on the phone talking extremely loud (just like the owner of the company)

    Usually the most noisy co-workers are the most subversive parasites who have 0 talent and are only trying to someone impress their superiors by their assholishness

  • Problem solved (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @02:45PM (#53156809)

    "This does not bode well for some workers facing cold and flu season, when hacking coughs make the rounds."

    The rest of the civilized world has solved this problem, it's called paid sick leave.

    • "This does not bode well for some workers facing cold and flu season, when hacking coughs make the rounds."

      The rest of the civilized world has solved this problem, it's called paid sick leave.

      This is in reference to open office environments. You're more likely to get sick from coworkers if there's no barrier between you. Most businesses in the US already offer paid sick leave. I can't think of a major business that doesn't have it, about the only ones I imagine wouldn't have it would be small businesses/mom & pop shops.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        Most businesses in the US already offer paid sick leave.

        A small and set number of days, which is generally treated as short-notice day for doing anything that requires one to be out of office, like waiting for a plumber, having an eye exam, taking the car to service, or otherwise.

        Once flu season starts, and employees have already used up their allotted sick days (whether due to actually being sick or not), they have to come in when sick or either be docked pay or risk getting fired.
        So late fall and early winter, American companies tend to have a great many sick

      • by Necron69 ( 35644 )

        My company doesn't have "sick leave", we have PTO (personal time off). This is a twisted system which means your sick time and vacation time are the same pool. Naturally, this means you screw up your vacation plans if you take sick time, so I just come in to work unless I'm on my death bed.

        Incentives matter.

        - Necron69

    • The rest of the civilized world has solved this problem, it's called paid sick leave.

      That's *IF* the sick coworkers take it. I know far too many people that come in sick because, "They don't want to get their spouses and children sick."

      So instead, they and their hacking cough come into the office and put 100s of other families at risk. I wonder if this stems from when they were children and their mother told them, "You're not sick enough to stay home."

  • by dcw3 ( 649211 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @02:47PM (#53156827) Journal

    The popularity of these among upper management is typically because of cost or control reasons. They're much cheaper than closed offices, and management can walk by to see exactly what you're doing. Typical penny wise & pound foolish mentality. The constant interruptions that occur end up costing them much more in the long run. And if this is how they think they need to see what people are doing, they fail at being managers. It's simple enough to give people tasks with milestones, and monitor their progress. I'm fortunate in that I'm able to work from home periodically. I get much more accomplished there because the only interruptions are from the phone or the doorbell. That said, I don't want to give up the face to face discussions that happen in the break room and hallways at work.

    • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @03:11PM (#53157037)

      The popularity of these among upper management is typically because of cost or control reasons. They're much cheaper than closed offices, and management can walk by to see exactly what you're doing.

      It's not only that. There is this myth floating around for the past couple decades that "collaboration" is the cool new workplace thing. People read stories about Google or Apple and tales of workers just randomly meeting in some common room and brainstorming the next new cool thing, and managers start drooling and saying, "Yeah -- let's get rid of the office walls. Get rid of the cubes! Break down the barriers, and we'll get better collaboration, which means more creative and efficient work!"

      Yeah, except that doesn't actually work. It's true that chance encounters with coworkers can be beneficial for brainstorming or bouncing ideas or whatever, but that happens best when you're OPEN TO THAT, which means you're not deeply focused on some specific task at your desk or whatever. More recent studies are showing (surprise!) that workers actually need lack of distractions, and a more isolated environment is often easier for that. The best office approach would be to offer both options -- closed offices for when you're focused on a task... and then open spaces, or tables, or common areas, or whatever when you're less focused and are open for random contact and collaboration.

      Actually, those people who have real, actual offices already have those options -- because they have a door. If you are working intently, you shut your door. If you want to be open for other random communication, you keep your door open.

      Typical penny wise & pound foolish mentality. The constant interruptions that occur end up costing them much more in the long run.

      True. Studies show that workers in "open plan" offices are less productive, tend to be more distracted, have more health issues and stress, take more sick days, etc., etc. It was a terrible idea, and probably never saved money in the long run.

      • Yeah, except that doesn't actually work. It's true that chance encounters with coworkers can be beneficial for brainstorming or bouncing ideas or whatever, but that happens best when you're OPEN TO THAT, which means you're not deeply focused on some specific task at your desk or whatever. More recent studies are showing (surprise!) that workers actually need lack of distractions, and a more isolated environment is often easier for that. The best office approach would be to offer both options -- closed offices for when you're focused on a task... and then open spaces, or tables, or common areas, or whatever when you're less focused and are open for random contact and collaboration.

        Yes, and if you want to encourage employees to spend more time being open to those? Nice, inviting breakrooms and lunch rooms (with decent lunch to be had!) will work wonders, especially if you have nice closed offices so employees have time to actually leave their desk to enjoy those things.

  • by jtara ( 133429 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @02:53PM (#53156877)

    I was asked to take my Unicomp "clicky" keyboard (Unicomp has the license for the original IBM clicky keyboard design) home, and forced to use a crappy Microsoft keyboard because the prima donna in the next cubicle couldn't stand the sound.

    This despite the fact that it was a huge, chaotic, open-office with loud-ass game developers, producers, etc. (Sony Playstation development studio.) Though we were in the more-sedate back-end/server development part of the office.

    But, OK. It disturbed the prima donna. But was it my fault? Or a stupid office layout?

    Really, my worst annoyance there was developers using IM to communicate, when we were in eight cubicles all together, just a few steps from each other. The plus of just walking over to the other developer's cubicle is that you can how busy they are, and decide to talk later, interrupt anyway because it is too important, etc. That is, use actual judgement instead of just casting out an IM and then stewing over it if not immediately answered.

    But that would take actual COMMON SENSE.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      To be fair the unicomp is about as loud as a keyboard gets - you could always get a cherry mx brown and have all the tactility with less noise.

    • by torkus ( 1133985 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @03:31PM (#53157187)

      I'd be more active and less whiny about it. One day when working late I'd pour epoxy all over the keyboard.

      If you replaced it, I'd see what facial indentations it could make.

      You seriously use a keyboard like that in an open office? Speaking of prima donna ... I heard there's someone upset by the type of keyboard they're using now.

      Bait aside, this is a perfect exampe of the types of distractions you get in open offices. People often don't realize how insanely annoying they are to others.

      • I have a jerkoff near me that is grunting and breathing like Darth Vader all day. Then you see him outside smoking like a chimney. So I brought in the keyboard and have been torturing him with it for months now.

        I also walk by his cube and release SBD farts as much as I can manage.

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        People often don't realize how insanely annoying they are to others.

        The emerging standard in open plan offices is "wear headphones, idiot, it's noisy", with anything short of shouting being dismissed as your problem. Makes sense to me. You can't expect to constrain everyone around you.

        What really pisses me off is the lack of dignity (and privacy is a big part of dignity). The older you get (and the more oddball health issues you accumulate), the more this matters - to everyone around, not just you. I'd prefer to know much less than I do about my co-worker's colostomy ba

  • If you asked me if I get distracted in the workplace by noisy co-workers I'd answer yes.

    If you asked me if I've ever solved a problem by overhearing a conversation from a noisy coworker, I'd answer CONSTANTLY.

    For the occasions where I do need peace and quiet, well Bose QC35s live up to their model number, unfortunately at $350 and given the quality of sound they also live up to their brandname.

    • For the occasions where I do need peace and quiet, well Bose QC35s live up to their model number, unfortunately at $350 and given the quality of sound they also live up to their brandname.

      I have a set of Bose QuietComfort 15 [amazon.com] headphones, and they do a good job of reducing, but not completely cancelling noise. I will use them whenever I need to really concentrate.

    • ...If you asked me if I get distracted in the workplace by noisy co-workers I'd answer yes. If you asked me if I've ever solved a problem by overhearing a conversation from a noisy coworker, I'd answer CONSTANTLY....

      What if I asked you whether or not you are a nosy co-worker who should concentrate more on your own work and less on the work of others?

      • Then you would probably be fired from most engineering jobs, except the paper pushing copy-paste engineers at consultant firms. Problems aren't solved in isolation.

    • I interviewed at Analog Devices locally a couple years back. I really liked their setup. The center area was open space with a few cubicles for the drop-in marketing/sales guys, the rest was lab area. Around the perimeter were proper offices for the engineers. Most folks had their doors open, but it was expected that if you needed to focus, have a loud discussion, or talk on a phone conference you would close your office door.

      I did not get that job, so I ended up at another good company that sadly has t

      • Most folks had their doors open, but it was expected that if you needed to focus, have a loud discussion, or talk on a phone conference you would close your office door.

        I work in an open floor plan, but our cube farm has enough sense to provide "quiet rooms" basically single desks and a telephone + internet connection for those times where you either really need to concentrate or really need to tear someone a new one over the phone. It works quite well.

        The risk of the typical office layout (IMO) is not people slacking off, but rather people isolating themselves from discussion.

  • Eating sounds (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pestilence669 ( 823950 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @02:54PM (#53156889)
    These are by far my worst favorite. I keep hearing the voice of my mother yelling "chew with your mouth closed!" It's never a problem at lunch or wherever expected. At my desk? Why do I need to HEAR people eat? I've had several colleagues over the years carbureting their food with open mouths, with chunks falling out onto the floor. I recently had to sit next to one guy that would make sucking sounds as he'd suck his fingers clean several times during his snacks, which were constant. Vegetarians & vegans need to eat quite regularly. The clanking of spoons on porcelain bowls. The resonance of hollow skulls munching on granola. The mushy sounds. My tolerance is about five minutes. Annoyance sets in at ten. Aggravation at fifteen. Psychosis at thirty. The last job... I took a lot of walks. This one guy would load up a bowl of snacks and proceed to noisily eat them for two hours slowly, savoring every bite and letting us all know. Without headphones, I would be in jail from my murderous rampage. I'm trying to grasp fifteen concepts in a head that can, at best, hold seven at once. The repetitious unnecessary noise of gluttony is a distraction.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @02:59PM (#53156933)

    Worker: doing any actual work here is difficult with all the noise..
    Boss: well, I manage just fine
    Worker: I said actual work

  • but for some reason, I'm not allowed to mute my coworker.

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @03:02PM (#53156957)

    Cube farms were a step up from the open offices of the 50's/60's. Then the hipsters decided that cubes were bad and that open offices were the way to go. But the irony is that they are now discovering what was learnt in the 60's. From Cubicle [wikipedia.org]

    Propst concluded from his studies that during the 20th Century the office environment had changed substantially, particularly in relation to the amount of information being processed.[1][2] The amount of information an employee had to analyze, organize, and maintain had increased dramatically. Despite this, the basic layout of the corporate office had remained largely unchanged, with employees sitting behind rows of traditional desks in a large open room, devoid of privacy. Propst's studies suggested that an open environment actually reduced communication between employees, and impeded personal initiative.[1][2] On this, Propst commented "One of the regrettable conditions of present day offices is the tendency to provide a formula kind of sameness for everyone."[1][2] In addition, the employees' bodies were suffering from long hours of sitting in one position. Propst concluded that office workers require both privacy and interaction, depending on which of their many duties they were performing.

    It's sad that the wheel keeps being reinvented.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Many people dislike extremely quiet offices, and they can be bad for cohesiveness. I often overhear relevant stuff and can either note it or offer something valuable. Back when we had a small corner office with the door shut most of the time we were cut off and less efficient.

      Personally extreme quiet is off-putting. I have to open a window or put on headphones with some white noise. Lack of sound makes humans more sensitive to sudden noises. People who hate sniffles and doors moving might find it better if

  • Where I used to work, we first had normal cubicles. Then management had this brilliant idea to go with open offices, but where everyone sat looking at other people's screens. This was to encourage people to spy and report coworkers.

    It was a disaster because no one got work done, constant chatting and distractions.
  • by Nunya666 ( 4446709 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @03:12PM (#53157057)
    ...is /.
  • I share an office with another person (with a cubicle dividing wall between us, finally), and while I do get along with him, some days the constant sighing just wears on my nerves (like today, now). So loud, even my headphones with Rammstein playing doesn't drown it out. When he's not sighing constantly, he usually has his ear buds in with bagpipe music so loud I can hear it over my music. Very distracting. I had an office to myself for several years, which was awesome, close the door, have music over t
  • Did a copy of Joel On Software or Peopleware fall thorough a timewarp from 1833?

  • by mspring ( 126862 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @04:12PM (#53157453)
    Dealing with this problem for a couple of years now. The Workplace Resource guys just don't care about all the evidence I have collected so far. The cheaper open seating environment seems to work for them, in terms of saving money. Lost productivity is nothing they're measured on.
  • Coworker flatus can be a major distraction.

  • Once worked across from a guy named swami that seemed to eat almost continuously... munch munch crackle crackle all day long. His eating habits also gave him a lot of gas, so he farted almost as often.
  • Just in case regular cubes aren't bad enough, a new high-level manager joined my company a couple years ago and decided to go with short-walled cubes so everyone can SEE each other and REALLY collaborate. Luckily that plague has not yet descended upon my location, and it looks like it won't. If it did, I'd just work from home 100% of the time. (Luckily my company is pretty good about that.) Besides the noise, I don't want to feel like everyone is staring at me all day long. Did I mention no one else on my t

  • When I am doing easy work I like some music but when doing difficult stuff I like silence. So I seem to pick the wrong companies to work for. I spent two years developing interactive shop displays that play music. Left that job to work for a company developing audio systems. In both case a lot of loud music is the norm. I have kind of got used to it over time, it is surprising what you can tune out, although some choices of music can really annoy.
  • The large orange construction site ones. I think I'll take the company CC and get me noise deadening headphones.

  • by Scarletdown ( 886459 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @08:48PM (#53158831) Journal

    There is an old Klingon proverb.

    Silence is golden. Duct tape is silver.

There's no future in time travel.

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