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Speech from Coworkers is the Most Disruptive

Speech from Coworkers is the Most Disruptive

The aim of the present study was to test which tasks are suitable for work in open-plan offices according to how susceptible they are to disruption produced by the mere presence of irrelevant speech. The tasks were chosen to tap fundamental capacities of office work involving: search for relevant information, remembering material, counting, and generation of words. The hypothesis was that tasks requiring semantic processing should be impaired by irrelevant speech. To determine the magnitude of performance decrease, two sound conditions (quiet, irrelevant speech) were compared. The results showed that tasks based on episodic short-term-memory and rehearsal of the presented material were more sensitive to disruption by irrelevant speech than tasks which did not require rehearsal or were based on long-term memory retrieval. The present study points to the inappropriateness of tasks, such as information search and remembering of material, for work environments within which irrelevant speech is ubiquitous.

Office Noise Affects Performance

There is a widespread concern for how undesired sounds in offices affect cognition and performance. Many noise sources are potentially disruptive; however, several studies have shown that irrelevant speech from colleagues is the most troublesome, especially for performance and perceived disturbance in open-plan offices. In addition, there are studies which indicate that some tasks are more affected by irrelevant speech than others. The aim of this study is to further specify which tasks are more-as compared to less-sensitive to disruption via irrelevant speech. This may give an indication of which tasks are suitable or inappropriate to work with in open-plan offices as these designs promote noisy work environments.

Disruptive Office Talk

Several studies have shown that reading comprehension, information search, recall of previously presented semantic information and writing processes, which all require semantic processing (i.e., processing of meaning), are detrimentally affected by irrelevant speech. This outcome is commonly explained as a cognitive conflict between the automatic semantic processing of irrelevant background speech and the simultaneous semantic processing of those tasks. Support for the automatic semantic processing of speech sounds, even if the sound is unattended, comes from both neuroscientific and behavioral studies.

This study addressed the issue of which office work tasks are more or less susceptible to disruption by the mere presence of irrelevant speech.

The main findings are that the information search task and the two memory based tasks were affected by irrelevant speech, but the math task and the two fluency tasks were not. This was not entirely expected as it was hypothesized that the semantic fluency task would be sensitive to irrelevant speech because of the requirements of semantic processing and the presence of semantic information in the irrelevant speech. Furthermore, it was hypothesized that the structural-memory task would be resistant to background speech as it arguably does not involve semantic processing.

Phone Booths & Meeting Pods

Since work tasks differ in how vulnerable they are for background speech, it is important to consider which work environments are optimal for each kind of task component.

The era of open plan office design has spawned the era of distracting office noise and lack of privacy. Phone booths and meeting pods solve these problems with minimal disruption to workplace activities by simply being placed in these open offices without redesigning or permits.

Study:Open-plan office noise: The susceptibility and suitability of different cognitive tasks for work in the presence of irrelevant speechHelena Jahncke
Environmental Psychology, Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, University of Gävle, Sweden; Noise & Health, Year : 2012 | Volume : 14 | Issue : 61 | Page : 315-320 

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