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Bad acoustics holding back return-to-office

16 November 2022

Women are more likely to work from home to escape from noisy colleagues, a new study has revealed...

The national study by Oscar Acoustics found that women are suffering in silence instead of reporting disruptive colleagues, with almost a quarter (24%) instead simply choosing to work from home, compared to nearly a fifth (21%) of men.

The report - part of a whitepaper published by Oscar Acoustics which aims to drive awareness about the benefits of ensuring workplaces are designed with acoustics in mind - found that women were far more likely to have difficulty concentrating in high-volume workplaces, with some 43% admitting they have previously struggled to focus compared to just 32% of men. Female office workers were also found to be far less likely to make a formal complaint about a noisy colleague, with just 11% confirming they had done so previously compared to nearly a fifth (19%) of men.

Instead, nearly a quarter (23%) of women said they have previously felt compelled to either begin work late or come in early to catch up on work due to being distracted by workplace noise. By comparison, less than a fifth of men (19%) had done the same.

Both men and women cited ‘colleagues talking to each other’, ‘colleagues talking on the phone or video calls’ and ‘eating noises’ as among their top audible annoyances.

Return to office

The findings come as London-based firms struggle to lure workers back to the office in wake of pandemic. For some employers, this will act as a warning that they may need to look again at their office design and layout – particularly the acoustics – and work with facilities managers to ensure that team members have quiet places to work if needed. However, as office relocation expert BMG’s Managing Director Rachel Houghton told PFM, many organisations are already ahead of this curve. “…There’s been a realisation that people were lonely, working from home [during the pandemic], but that they were really enjoying having some quiet time where they could get their heads down and get things done,” she said.
“We started to see more acoustic hubs being put in, more project tables. There was a big investment into that.”

Nonetheless, Ben Hancock, Managing Director at Oscar Acoustics, believes more still needs to be done. He said: “The issue of noise in our offices and places of work has been ignored for far too long. With the take up of hybrid working, we’re seeing the impact it can have on staff and productivity, creating unwanted distractions that reduce the quality of work.

He added: “It’s a sorry state of affairs to find that women struggle with unchecked noise levels more than men, yet are less likely to raise their concerns. We need to take a long hard look at the suitability of our offices and understand that excessive noise is one of the main reasons why people aren’t returning to offices. Without better acoustic management, this reluctance will continue, having an affect on company bottoms lines and staff morale.”

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