What would it be like to set up a desk in Times Square amid the flashing lights, constant foot traffic, and noise? For many employees in an open-office space, it’s the usual day at work.
Imagine writing a piece of “deep work” with constant interruptions, people calling out to each other across the room, and coworkers milling about one’s desk. It’s a sea of commotion. Yet the brain must make minute adjustments to text to create a seamless flow. As Maria Konnikova documents in her article, “The Open-Office Trap,” this is a very real-life scenario, and one that takes its toll.
Exposure to noise in an office may also take a toll on the health of employees. In a study by the Cornell University psychologists Gary Evans and Dana Johnson, clerical workers who were exposed to open-office noise for three hours had increased levels of epinephrine—a hormone that we often call adrenaline, associated with the so-called fight-or-flight response.
And that is for only three hours. For most office workers, the usual day is 8.5 to 9 hours.