Background noise is defined as an ambient sound that isn't the specific sound that you're paying attention to. It can have a profound impact on the effectiveness of communication in several different ways.
Most obviously, it can simply prevent someone from hearing what’s being said. The listener may mishear and misunderstand the communication if there is lots of background noise interfering with the sound/message they're trying to focus on.
On the part of the sender, focusing on speaking louder to overcome the background noise can take their attention away from the content of the communication, making it more difficult for recipients to understand them. It can also prevent them from picking up on feedback from the recipients, and from judging the effectiveness of their communication.
For all parties, it can also serve as a distraction, particularly if the noise includes other conversations.
Background noise in an office environment
As an employer, it's important to consider how background noise in your office may impact employees, specifically in the following cases:
1. Background noise in an open-plan office
Although there are many benefits to an open-plan office, such as increased collaboration and stronger working relationships, the distraction of background noise is a valid concern. This can particularly be the case if your office has noisier teams that need to collaborate regularly, or those who spend a lot of time on the phone, near quieter teams who need to focus on a singular task, such as writers or coders. As a business owner, it's worth taking the time to speak to your employees to figure out how background noise is impacting their work and ability to focus.
2. Background noise in call centres
As touched on above, if part (or all) of your business includes a call centre, consider the proximity of staff to one another and also if the background noise is so loud that it impacts the ability of the customer on the other end of the call to understand what is being said. In this instance, it's worth structuring your office so that your employees are spaced apart. You'll also have to check that your employees have the appropriate equipment to ensure background noise is minimized.
3. Background noise and confidentiality
Another crucial aspect of managing background noise within your business is ensuring that your employees who may be dealing with confidential information or projects are able to discuss matters without being overheard. This is especially important if specific industries, such as healthcare, where employees may need to have confidential conversations on a regular basis. In this instance, it's vital to look into sound masking and speech privacy within the work environment.
How to manage background noise as an employer
The bottom line is: noise impacts everyone differently. Whilst some employees may prefer to spend the whole day listening to the radio whilst they work, others will prefer total silence. There will certainly also be some who find themselves easily distracted by white noise such as ringing phones and chatter, and so will choose to work with headphones on.
As a business owner, it's vital that you speak to your employees about how you can support them so that they're able to focus on their work without unreasonable distractions. From providing appropriate noise-cancelling equipment to those who have to regularly take calls, to checking that there are meeting rooms and quiet spaces available for those who need to be in silence to focus, there are many ways to ensure that your employees aren't negatively impacted by background noise in the workplace.
It's also important to think of your wider obligations as a business owner. For example, if you want to promote neurodiversity in your workplace, take the time to think about how background noise may impact your employees' ability to focus and how you can adapt your workspace to be more inclusive.
Similarly, if you liaise with your staff and decide that you'd like to play the radio in the office for background or ambient noise to help with productivity, you'll have to ensure you're paying for a license from PPL PRS.
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