Merry Christmas… and a quiet New Year
Written by Peter Eigenraam on 10th December 2015
How active noise cancelling headphones improved my productivity drastically.
TL;DR: This is not an advertorial for any noise cancelling headphone. A couple of weeks ago everybody at Spindle got a Bose Quiet Comfort active noise cancelling headset. It really improved my focus when working at the office, home and public transport. It filters out most of the irrelevant sounds which had a drastic impact on my focus and productivity.
It’s a funny thing, focus. There are tons of articles written about how to get ‘into the flow’. They all mention things like “set clear goals”, “eliminate distractions” and “calm the mind”.
That’s all true, but for me personally I experienced a big change when me and my colleagues got active noise cancelling headphones from my employer. It was a ‘thank you’ for getting the owner of our company nominated for the Entrepreneur of the Year award.
I was given the choice between the on-ear (QC25) and in-ear (QC20) variant of Bose’s Quiet Comfort active noise cancelling headphones. I chose the in-ears because I like wearing in-ears, and in my opinion, the perceived effect of noise cancellation was better using the in-ears.
Irrelevant speech kills flow
For me, my work mainly consists of analysing data, implement data tracking and building visualisations. This requires a certain focus, or flow. Research on sound in open workspaces which has been done already a decade ago shows that the sound of unwanted speech is still primarily the most important dissatisfier when it comes to office noise. I can easily relate to that, yet, more and more companies create open-space environments without giving employees the right tools to cut out the noise.
Think about it; how many times you overhear a chat between colleagues which was totally irrelevant for the task you were working on, but you did gave a thought about what your coworkers were saying, or even got involved into that conversation because you somehow felt the urge to share your ideas, knowledge, or whatsoever. This is of course a great thing about working in a team, but it’s also killing your personal flow, which by the end of the day, is the most important thing – assuming your job is not to constantly listen to other colleagues and see if you can help.
The moment I plugged in the in-ears and activated the noise cancellation I almost instantly got into a state of “flow”: no chatter from colleagues, no noises from outside the office, no ventilation sound, no nothing: just silence. And silence – or better – the absence of any noise but the noises you choose to hear (e.g. music, ambient noises like rain) for me just seems like the most important factor in getting focused on the task getting done. This definitely counts for me, and as research shows that removing irrelevant noises leads to a more pleasant environment in the office, this definitely could count for anyone.
It felt – and still feels – great. Previously when I needed to focus, I would go sit in one of our meeting rooms for some quietness, or work extra hours from home, but now, I just activate my noise cancellation and get going. It’s truly amazing.
Impact on the team
Aside from my own experience, other colleagues also experience an improvement in focus, which is a great thing. This means our team is getting more productive and most likely a bit happier by just adding noise cancellation headphones to its tools package (laptop, etc).
Previously, everybody just had good headphones. You could however still get your colleagues attention by just starting to talk with them. With active noise cancellation switched on and some music playing you can talk as much as you want to your colleague, but chances are he or she is not hearing you (unless you actively stand at his desk or start shooting NERF darts at him or her).
Since we have our noise cancellation headphones, we as a team do notice that there is less interaction going around in the office during work hours; less informal talking, jokes, fun stuff or involving other colleagues into a discussion. I do have colleagues who think this is sad because the office gets a bit less ‘gezellig’. I’m not sure if this is primarily a bad thing. Personally, I think our informal contact just gets more focused around meetings, coffee breaks and lunch.
About the Bose Quiet Comfort 20 (QC20) in-ear headphones
I have no experience with other hardware when it comes to active noise cancelling headsets. I previously tested the Bose in-ears of one of our befriended companies and tested the over-ears as well. In both cases I was really enthusiastic about the amount of noise that is being reduced. In almost every review the Bose comes out as the best choice when shopping for an active noise cancellation headphone. It filters out low-frequency sounds perfectly: ventilation or office equipment like printers. In comparison to less expensive headsets, and even the QC25 (over-ear variant) the QC20 filters out speech very well. Even when colleagues are chatting right beside me, I don’t need to put the volume of my music up to cut out the chatter.
The price, however, can be a bit disappointing: it costs around a whopping €299, which is quite an investment. If I hadn’t got one from Spindle but did had the experience of the active noise cancellation I have right now, I would definitely consider making the investment to buy one myself.
Happy employees = happy customers
So bosses, managers, CEO’s of this world: improve the productivity of your workforce and give your employees the best Christmas gift a knowledge-worker can get: less distraction. Yes, there isn’t any scientific proof (yet) that noise cancelling headphones improve productivity, but it really does improve the overall satisfaction, perceived productivity and working atmosphere in our office, which leads to happy employees. And everybody knows that happy employees eventually leads to happy customers 🙂