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You are here: Home > Articles > Speech Privacy Systems > Office Distractions
Effects of Conversational Distractions on Information Workers
Our modular digital technology is the only solution on the market that offers a simple, centrally-located method of sound privacy level adjustment without sacrificing effectiveness. There's nothing to program and no extensive operator training is required. Other systems require extensive balancing and level adjustment at each individual emitter, resulting in higher installation and maintenance costs.
Among professional researchers who have studied the "productivity" of office-based information workers for decades, it is now universally accepted that "conversational distractions" are the biggest cause of lost productivity in open workplaces and, therefore, the most important factor to limit and control.
Three recent independent studies using large and statistically valid sample sizes produced interesting results. Two of these studies were conducted under laboratory conditions, and the other was conducted in a field setting (an actual work site).
These studies, all of which have been published in peer-reviewed professional journals, showed the following improvements that resulted from making specific adjustments to the acoustical conditions in open office environments, with the goal of improving speech privacy by removing "conversational distractions":
  • focus: the ability of office workers to focus on their tasks improved by 48%;
  • distractions: "conversational distractions" decreased by 51%;
  • error-rates: performance of standard "information-worker" tasks (measured in terms of accuracy [error-rates] and short-term memory) improved by 10%; and
  • stress: when measured in terms of the actual physical symptoms of stress, stress was reduced by 27%.
Another recent study conducted by Cornell University found that workers in open-style offices with only low-level noise:
  • experienced significantly higher levels of stress,
  • made 40% fewer attempts to solve difficult problems, and
  • made only half as many ergonomic adjustments to their workstations as did their colleagues in quiet offices.
Ironically, it is often assumed by planners, architects, and designers that reducing "conversational distractions" requires developing and specifying "quiet" workspaces. As a result, most offices today have been designed to be too quiet. It turns out that workspaces that are designed to be "quiet" result in conditions where "conversational distractions" are increased - not decreased.
It's like the old adage, "it's so quiet you can hear a pin drop". It isn't the absolute "loudness" of the pin drop but rather the absolute "quiet" of the environment that permits the pin drop to be heard.
Much of what is heard in office settings that is considered a distraction is not "absolutely loud" but "relatively loud." In other words, the distraction is louder than everything else in the environment at that time. In fact, in quiet, open workplace conditions, "freedom from conversational distractions" may only be achievable by increasing the levels of background sound, not by decreasing them.
 
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Cubicle Privacy
"Productivity" is a broad measure of a variety of aggregate behaviors. Despite interest in the subject, there currently is not a standard methodology that is accepted by economists or finance and accounting professionals for measuring "total-factor productivity. Presently, the seven most frequently studied productivity impacts are:
  • the speed with which tasks are performed;
  • the accuracy with which tasks are performed;
  • the level of stress encountered by workers;
  • the impact various stressors (such as noise and vibration) have on the competence and endurance of workers over time;
  • the amount of down-time and sick-time (particularly as a result of injuries, for example from hearing damage, back injury, or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome);
  • employee turnover rates; and
  • various attitudinal measures (i.e., a high rate of satisfaction with workplace conditions usually correlates with increased

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