Anyone who has worked in an office or classroom setting has experienced difficulty focusing on a task due to nearby conversations, echoes in the room, or any other type of noise. But, does noise or sound actually impact our productivity, and is there an ideal noise level for productivity? Before answering these questions, we first need to go over the audible range of human hearing.
What is the Audible Range of Human Hearing?
Volume levels are typically measured by decibels (dB). A dB is a unit of measurement on a logarithmic scale used for measuring acoustic power as a ratio. It attempts to put a value to perceived noise levels and while there are flaws with dB as a unit of measurement for sound, it’s the most commonly used unit of measurement. So, we’ll be discussing the audible range of human hearing in terms of dB.
Human hearing begins at 0 dB. While it might seem 0 dB would refer to no noise, it actually means the pressure levels of the sound are equal to the reference level. In the case of human hearing, the reference level refers to the pressure in your ear. However, a 0 dB noise would barely be noticeable, if noticeable at all.
Moving up from 0 dB, someone whispering quietly in your ear is a noise level of about 40 dB. Normal conversation is a noise level of about 60 dB and loud noises such as a plane taking off are about 130 dB. Any noise below 80 dB seems to be safe even when exposed for long periods of time. Noises above 80 dB can begin to cause damage depending on the length of exposure. As the noise increases in volume, the length of exposure for causing damage decreases. At about 115 dB, irreversible damage can be caused even during short-term exposure.
How Noise or Sound Affects Productivity?
The effect on productivity caused by noise or sound partially depends on the type of noise and the loudness of that noise. It seems this difference comes from the way humans can become used to certain noises and almost block them out. One study found minimal impact on performance with up to four hours of exposure to HVAC noise. However, a different study found major impacts on performance when exposed to office-related conversations and noise. Most humans after some sort of noise distraction find it hard to get back into a zone of productivity.
So, to maximize productivity, you can implement acoustic foam that can minimize the distance noises, such as conversations and echoes from objects or noises, so they do not disrupt working employees or yourself from your working environment. if you do not understand what sound reduction foam is, you can can also read up about what it is.