Once the shiny new savior to put an end to outdated cubicles, open offices have quickly started losing their luster. Sure, the minimalist design looks nice. But a lot of people secretly--or not-so-secretly--hate working in open offices.
Though silence is super nourishing for your brain, open offices are notoriously. There's your coworker's mindless chitchat. The office dog that never stops barking. The lack of soundproofing. And since earlids are not a thing our bodies have, the noise never goes away. In fact, a study went so far as to find that noise reduction is one of the most desirable office "perks" for millennials.
But is noise entirely the problem? Maybe not, a few new studies find. David Burkus, a professor of creativity and innovation at Oral Roberts University, just published a piece in Harvard Business Review exploring how the source of the noise may the real reason open offices are so distracting.
Think about it. Focusing at a coffee shop isn't all that hard. Some people find their groove at coworking spaces. Both these types of environments produce noise. But when you get to the office? Game over. So what's different about your office when compared to a coffee shop?
The people who are making the noise and their proximity to you, Burkus says. In other words, your coworkers. He points to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research where participants were asked to perform creative tasks in different levels of background noise. Those who worked with a low level of background noise performed the best. "The study also suggests that the right level of background noise--not too loud and not total silence--may actually boost one's creative thinking ability," Burkus points out.
In other words, a little bit of ambient noise--like the kind in coffee shops--could help you be productive. But people yapping loudly next to you having a conversation? That's distracting. Especially if it's work-related, because you can't help but listen in.