As the pandemic subsides, more and more people are returning to work from the home environment they are so accustomed to. Many are returning to massive one-room offices, and according to new research, that workplace can be stressful.

In many places, workers work in a common airspace, and this type of open office has been around for decades. In the United States, for example, before the pandemic, 70 percent of employees were already employed in such jobs. And while a large percentage of workers complain about this solution, little empirical research has addressed the effects of office noise on things like cognitive performance, physiological stress, and mood.

Cambridge University graduated under experimental controlled conditions ResearchDuring pulse monitoring, cutaneous conductivity and emotion recognition based on facial monitoring were performed using artificial intelligence, and the effect of noise in these workplaces turned out to be very real.

A clear causal relationship was found between open office noise and physiological stress. Noise like this was found to increase negative mood by 25 percent — and these results come from participants who were tested for just eight minutes at a time in an open simulated office. In a true ‘open office’, where employees are constantly exposed to noise throughout the day, the negative effects of noise on stress and mood are even greater.

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Although the researchers have not found direct evidence of decreased work performance, they hypothesize that this type of hidden stress may be harmful to productivity and even health in the long run. It has also been found that single space offices are rarely a physical hazard in terms of noise levels, with constant exposure throughout the day to enhance the negative impact.

Chronically high levels of physiological stress are detrimental to mental and physical health. Repetitive negative moods can also be detrimental to job satisfaction and commitment. This increases the likelihood of workers leaving.

And what can be done in such a situation? If more people work/can work from home, the office will be less crowded, reducing visual effects and noise. But other things can be done. A variety of sound-absorbing techniques, or even the installation of old-fashioned walls or partitions, can help. While such interventions are costly, they can certainly pay off in the long run.

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