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I work in an open office with typical office noise (people talking and walking by). It is simply too noisy and restless for me to work in. I've been trying and trying to get some change, to no avail. I'm at a point of starting to look for a new job, but thought I'd give it one more shot, and try to argue my case with research.

I remember reading about research on how noise and disruptions affect knowledge work and software development in particular. Maybe I'm bad at searching, but I just can't find research papers that deals specifically with noise and work that requires high concentration.

PS: While I appreciate tips on how to cancel the noise (music, white noise, etc.), please limit your answer to links to research papers. Thanks.

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3 Answers 3

DeMarco and Lister in Peopleware quote and reference research.

It is unclear how rigorous that research is.

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They got a lot of their data from having people in different organizations coding the same project, and then correlating performance with organizational characteristics. From this one can prove a correlation between noisy environments and low productivity. But can't prove whether that is because noise hurts productivity, or productive people leave noisy jobs. Based on experience I would say that the full answer combines both factors. –  btilly Mar 9 '11 at 18:35
I remember reading Peopleware years ago. Have to track it down again. @btilly Exactly! Basic rule of statistics, correlation is evidence that, on its own, doesn't prove anything. –  Rubio Mar 11 '11 at 8:07
@Rubio: Or more pithily: "correlation is not causation". –  Richard Mar 11 '11 at 9:16
@btilly +1. Whichever explanation is true, the organisation's management can still conclude that noise is bad. It's bad if productivity is lowered and it's very bad if productive people leave. –  MarkJ Jul 10 '13 at 7:40

I seem to recall that some of the planning and productivity metrics we used a few years ago (Function Point Analysis etc) included multipliers for a variety of environmental factors - including noise/open plan offices (as I work in).

These weighting factors had the effect of increasing the schedule estimate if the team were working in a noisy environment (and also increased the bug count if I recall correctly)

Unfortunately, like you, I am having trouble finding a suitable reference to cite. If I do find it, I will update this post....

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I'd really like to find this reference! Please add a comment here if you know it. –  John Lawrence Aspden Oct 6 '13 at 14:39

I am not sure if research papers will help as I imagine this is a problem with your upper management. My boss would let me work from home till I didn't have a better working place at office.

The thing I would suggest is to take your stand and tell the management in proper words 'This is a totally inappropriate environment to work. You see, my work requires concentration, I cannot work with noise'

Tell this up straight to the management. If they value you and your work they will do something about it. And yes it seems to be a cheap company not suited to your standard. Keep looking for a better job and do not quit till you don't find another job.

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Many very large companies think that open plan is OK. Architects (and some s/w developers) will tell you to your face that you are WRONG, stupid, ignorant, and that open plan is good because it encourages communication. Trouble is, it does not help you to concentrate. –  quickly_now Mar 10 '11 at 9:40
@quickly_now : There are times when you need to talk it out staright. Not with everyone though. There are people that like to be told softly in a corner and they will understand. Some people need some push. We need to understand what type of people we are dealing with. And in the above question 3 signs show that the upper management needs some pushing 1) him needing to resort to research paper to make them understand his basic need 2) him resorting to a third party for help to make them understand 3) the noise in the first place. –  Imran Omar Bukhsh Mar 10 '11 at 9:54
Open plan office undoubtedly promotes communication. Is that good or bad? When a dev is "in the zone", it may take 15 or even 30 minutes to get back into the "zone". Ten distruptions per day means a lot of lost time, not to mention the frustration that inevitably follows. –  Rubio Mar 11 '11 at 8:01

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