Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Questioning the "Cost of Sound"

I was listening to an interview on the radio today with one of the authors of a book called Healing at the Speed of Sound. The interview was intriguing enough that I’ve already started reading it, but what stuck with me the most from the interview was a question that was asked about the “cost of sound”. The idea being that any kind of noise around you, ambient noise from an air conditioner, the hum of electricity, water running though a pipe in the wall, children in another room or co-workers in a nearby cube, all have a cost associated with them. Since we can’t actually shut our ears, the way we can our eyes, we are always in listening mode. Even if you wear earplugs or noise cancelling headphones, you are merely swapping one noise for another. Noise is something we can’t entirely block out; our brain will always be processing the sounds around us. The reason that the “cost of sound” question stuck with me so much is because I started thinking about different work environments, how different types of people need different soundscapes to maintain productivity and yet, beyond making sure no one is disruptively loud, we pay little to no attention to sound when we put people together in a workspace.

So, what I’m wondering is, does anyone measure the impact of sound on productivity in an office setting. And, if anyone does, is there a way to translate the negative or positive actual cost (currency) impact of one sound scape over another on a given project? Can changes in sound scape be translated into cost or risk? And, is sound like other environmental conditions?

If the Hawthorne Works studies indicate that simply changing a variable in a work situation will result in increased productivity simply because of change, does this apply to sound? If I start playing Never Mind the Bollocks in the office, will folks be motivated to work more efficiently or quicker? Once their productivity has stabilized, if I replace the Sex Pistols with Kenny G, are they still going to see an improvement?