How do you deal with a return to work in a noisy office?

The UK workforce is starting to return to shared workplaces and offices after over a year working from home and a new study shows that many are struggling to cope with distracting levels of noise. Some employees are relishing the return to work but many report frustration when they do return, with a worrying lack of productivity.

The study conducted by The Institute of Facilities Management  involved 2000 adults who had worked from home during the pandemic. Most had been back to the office at least once during this time. Upon their return they reported issues from distracted and frustrating background noise to poor internet connection and video conferencing set ups. Many felt they had been productive and happier working from home and this applied particularly to the younger workers who took part in the research.

Most worryingly only a quarter (26%) of respondents saw any changes to the layout of their workplaces despite UK wide advice to maintain social distancing.

One in three said they were no longer happy to share a desk with a colleague. 

The chief executive of the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, Linda Hausmanis said: “As we move into new modes of working, businesses must adapt physical spaces, working culture and supporting technologies.”

Employers must invest in workspaces to ensure the safety, comfort and productivity of their workforces or face a concerning decline in productivity over the next year. 

57% of workers want to continue to work from home 

poll from YouGov found that the majority of employees (57%) would prefer to continue to work from home for some of the working week. For some of us, new patterns of hybrid work will allow this to happen but many other companies are now beginning to call staff back to the office, citing collaboration and creativity as the major benefits to a return. Both the CEO’s of Apple and Google in recent communications with staff outlined a return to work from September 2021. Apple referred to a hum of activity and creativity and collaboration that returning to the office will bring. 

Issues with noise reported by returning staff

The reality for those who have returned to their shared offices isn’t the creative utopia the CEO’s perhaps hoped for. Staff who have been used to the relative peace and quiet and solitude of working from home, report feelings of frustration with unbearable noise levels on their return. 

A recent article in WIRED reported that one woman was astonished and how loud her open plan office was after 16 months of working from home. She reported feeling uncomfortable by the sounds of private conversations and found the entire experience uncomfortable and bizarre. She said she had felt she just wanted to leave. 

Many others report that to hold a video conferencing meeting at their desks has become impossible with distracting noise all around them. Added to this they are unnerved by potential for their own conversations to be overheard which has led staff to book meeting rooms in which to hold their online meetings! This feeling of privacy and retreating to the meeting room just isn’t sustainable in most shared workplaces.

Stress and noisy interruptions = mistakes and poor performance

Research shows that feelings of stress and frustration directly impact productivity and so too does the constant interruptions those returning to the office in 2021 report. If we constantly start tasks and then have to leave them either through distraction or to have conversations, the ability and memory of the task is decayed. Repeated throughout a working day this makes us less productive, constantly trying to continue where we left a task. Overall this adds to our sense of frustration. Added to this is the increased chance of errors and decline in accuracy if we are repeatedly interrupted.

We don’t even have to physically stop work for our performance to be impaired. Just the mental act of blocking out sound distractions leads to a decline in performance. Simple tasks become much harder to perform when our brain has to deal with acoustically varying sounds – such as overheard conversations, traffic noise and music. Our brains’ performance declines with clashing calls on its function and our ability to process information is dramatically reduced.

What can you do to reduce noise levels in the office?

Background noise is invasive and has been shown to reduce performance up to 50% at work. What can you do to reduce it?

Noise cancelling headphones can really help, or re-arranging where you work to find a quieter desk. Sometimes this just isn’t practical and it’s also not a long term solution to creating a quiet work environment, relying on individuals to take action. With these issues in mind Ezobord has created a range of desk dividers and screens that reduce background noise and improve speech intelligibility to help you work without distractions.

Ezobord acoustic desk dividers work with almost all desks regardless of their dimensions and give a sense of privacy and security that people returning to work crave.

The newest concept from Ezobord – “Hoody” is a mobile sound reducing workstation and desk dividing system that ensures a sense of privacy and enclosure. It can be used as a single workstation, or there are options for banks of desks. 

Take a natural pause

If you can find a natural pause in your work, you can try writing key points that you will get straight back to after the interruption. Dealing with an interruption between tasks is less likely to reduce productivity than mid task. 


For most of us, a return to the office or workplace is going to involve adjustment and re-ordering. Employers need to consider all possible concerns and make the return as noise and distraction free as possible to keep a happy and productive workforce.

At Ezobord you can shop online for fast delivery of acoustic solutions for your office: walls, ceilings, desk dividers, space dividers and even acoustic notice boards and portable white boards.

Office Panels

Acoustic desk dividers and partitions for single or multiple desks and open plan spaces.

Ceiling Designs

Acoustic ceiling panels and suspension systems that absorb sound and look great.

Wall Products

Sound proofing and absorption from wall tiles and panels in a range of stunning designs.


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