Ringing phones, people talking, the whirring and grinding of machines--all common sounds in today's office, and all distractions that can have a negative impact on productivity.
Although typewriters have pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur, there are plenty of computer keyboards clicking away. Laser printers are quieter than impact printers, but we've added other types of equipment--fax machines, paper shredders and so on--that generate their own noise. Open floor plans may encourage communication and enhance space efficiency, but the design also adds to office noise--and may leave staffers feeling as though their workplace lacks privacy.
The most effective approach to dealing with office noise is a simple one, says Richard K. Fullmer, principal acoustical engineer with Spectrum Professional Services in Salt Lake City. Move noisy equipment to a room that can be closed off. If it can't be moved, look for a way to contain the noise behind a barrier. Also, try to introduce sound-absorbing materials, such as acoustical ceiling tiles, that will help dissipate noise.
Fullmer recommends hiring a consultant to help you formulate a noise-reduction strategy. Look under "Acoustical Consultants" in the Yellow Pages. A consultant can help you develop an effective and affordable plan; expect to pay $300 to $500 for the consultation. Fullmer advises making sure the consultant is an engineer and checking his or her qualifications just as you would for any professional service provider. Associations can also be a good source of information. Check out the Institute of Noise Control Engineering (http://www.allenpress.com/inceusa/index) and the National Council of Acoustical Consultants (http://www.ncac.com).