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The verdict: Can office acoustics be too quiet?

We’ve spoken many times before about The Privacy Crisis and how to combat it with noise-reducing ideas and the ABCs of office acoustic solutions. In related themes, we’ve also offered a plethora of advice on how to generate more hush in a noisy workplace where concentration levels may be being compromised.

Now, we want to explore the flip-side of the argument and share our thoughts on what happens when a workspace is too quiet. Of course, low noise levels can naturally be attributed to intense concentration and high productivity. However, quiet offices do also have the potential to be a sign of disengagement, poor communication and an unwillingness to participate.

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It seems silence isn’t always golden

We reached out to our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook followers to carry out some quick polls in order to gather some insight around how the modern workforce feels about pin-drop quiet working environments.

Here’s what we found:

  • 86% on Instagram said they need some background noise and 14% said they prefer silence.
  • 71% on Twitter said they prefer background noise, nobody said they like to work in silence and the remaining 29% said they like to have the choice between the two.
  • 100% of our Facebook respondents agreed that an office can indeed be too quiet and that some background noise is preferable.

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With such vast majorities voting in favour of some background noise, we can only assume that this would be closely representative of the wider workforce. With that in mind, we wanted to investigate the topic further and offer some expert guidance.

What happens when an office is too quiet?

Steelcase research demonstrates that 85% of people are dissatisfied with their working environment and have difficulty concentrating. Too much excess noise can contribute to this particular workplace issue but then so can a stifled, silent atmosphere.

An office which is too quiet risks:

Communication lines being severed

In super quiet work surroundings, staff are going to be more likely to communicate only when necessary and then, most probably via email rather than face-to-face. To make communication matters worse, staff in over-quiet offices are also more inclined to sit with headphones in again, hindering communication and participation.


Low levels of collaboration and interaction

This type of environment and the consequential attitude and behaviours also has the potential to prevent impromptu collaboration and co-working. In a quiet space, those with a more introvert personality might feel intimidated and unwilling to voice their ideas. Collaboration won’t come as naturally as in an a dynamic, stimulating environment where people feel free to communicate and share ideas.

Privacy being compromised

In certain circumstances, peace and quiet has its place in providing sufficient privacy. For example, when a member of staff needs somewhere to go to concentrate on individual focus work without disruption. However, when it comes to privacy in terms of confidentiality, a pin-drop silent working environment has quite the opposite effect. Staff can struggle to have sensitive conversations either with colleagues or external parties which can be detrimental to performance and efficiency.

Poor mental wellbeing

When privacy is compromised, you’re creatively stifled, communication lines have been weakened and you’re forced to work in a disengaging working environment, this can then take its toll on mental wellbeing and overall job satisfaction.

Striking the balance between privacy and productivity

So, it seems that both excess sound and overly low noise levels can be equally detrimental to employee experience and performance. Where you sit along this spectrum will be unique to your business and something that a workplace expert will be able to help you identify. Once you’ve done a bit of analysis on the acoustic profile of your working environment, you can then consider the appropriate solutions.

These furniture, technology and design solutions include: 

Office acoustic solutions – If you can see the benefit of background noise, conversation and the sound of collaboration but are concerned that a lack of privacy or concentration could become a problem, acoustically enhanced furniture or products are a great idea. They can be used throughout the space or in certain settings to provide a bit of sound control where it may be required.

Sound conditioning technology – Many modern offices are now employing the use of sound conditioning technology which intuitively adapts background noise according to levels of noise within a space. There is a plethora of options including the dispersing of a ‘white noise’ type sound over integrated speakers to break any uncomfortable silence.

Purpose-built social and collaboration settings – As the response from our Twitter followers proved, many people like to be given the freedom to choose between quiet and more high energy environments. To cater for this, we recommend creating a variety of work settings which facilitate this choice and control. This should include a contrast of quiet, private spaces with social spaces and designated collaboration areas.

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