Noise pollution: The reason you might be much calmer working from home

woman calm at her desk
No noisy colleagues or rackety printer? True bliss. Photo credit: Getty.

As the country celebrates moving into COVID-19 alert level 3, many Kiwis are hesitantly heading back to work in dribs and drabs, all the while practising the new social distancing rules that come with it.

For many, getting out of the house, away from children and noisy neighbours, will be a divine respite. But for others, the slower pace and quieter days of level 4 might be missed as they head back to loud colleagues and the hustle and bustle of the office. 

They're not alone. A recent study from Sony Electronics found noise pollution is one of the biggest irritants in the workplace, with 80 percent of workers encountering unwanted noise. 

The biggest irritant? The sound of their own colleagues. 

Of those surveyed, 33 percent said colleagues talking and laughing too loudly was their biggest noise complaint, while 32 percent were irked by telephones ringing and not being answered. Colleagues sniffing, sneezing and coughing bothered 28 percent - especially relevant in a post-COVID world. 

Noise pollution: The reason you might be much calmer working from home
Photo credit: Supplied.

Most commonly, noise pollution makes it harder for workers to concentrate or stay focused

(54 percent), with many saying that it makes them irritable or annoyed.

While these may seem like minor qualms in the grand scheme of things, the effect on our productivity and even our health is very real, according to professor and director of audiology at Macquarie University, Dr Catherine McMahon.

"Noise is extremely subjective and is linked with the emotional part of our brain - which

means noise can affect people in a variety of ways. While we recognise the acute impacts

that these noises have, for example, we get irritated or annoyed, we have only begun to

uncover the longer-term effects that this sustained stress can have on our health," says Dr McMahon. 

"The stress of these noises throughout the day can even disrupt our sleep that evening,

which will increase our tiredness and dampen productivity the following day. 

"Other studies have found that it can eventually have an impact on the cardiovascular system and is associated with an increased incidence of arterial hypertension, myocardial infarction, heart failure, and stroke."

All things we would rather avoid if possible. So what's the solution?

If you've been productive in your WFH set-up, perhaps ask your boss if you'd be able to ease back into the workplace, perhaps working out of the home office a couple of afternoons a week. Even that brief interlude will allow you to reset and offer some respite from the relentless noise. 

When you are back in the office, noise-cancelling headphones are your friends. Not only do they block out unwanted noise, but the mere sight of them plugged into your ears will inform colleagues that you are Very Busy™, and therefore not to be disturbed with relentless stories of their kids' weekend activities. We like these ones for big over-the-ear cushioning, and these ones for more delicate and subtle tuning out.