For years, studies have been showing that an open-plan office can be an absolute nightmare for productivity. Workers have been saying the same, though usually using more colourful terms.
81% of knowledge workers say noise and interruptions impact their productivity
Jabra Knowledge Worker Survey 2018
A study by Haworth, Designing for Focus Work states that office workers lose 28% of their productivity time due to interruptions and distractions. This was workers in general, and not specific to open workspaces, where they have to deal with even more noise and distractions.
With trend setters like Facebook and Apple both building large open-plan offices, unfortunately open workspaces are here to stay.
In response to open offices, people have been turning to headphones. As Raj Udeshi said, all the way back in 2012 in The New York Times story, From Cubicles, Cry for Quiet Pierces Office Buzz
“Headphones are the new wall”
Headset manufacturers are taking notice, and are bringing out some great Active Noise Cancelling solutions.
There are two types of noise cancellation, passive and active. Passive noise cancellation works on the principle of stopping noise from reaching your ears. For instance covering the ear canal you can reduce the amount of ambient noise that gets through. This follows natural instinct, watch a child in a noisy environment, they cover their ears with their hands. In ear and over ear headphones are a great example of this concept.
Where passive noise cancellation adds a physical barrier, active noise cancellation brings in the technical smarts. Active noise cancellation (ANC) uses a microphone to hear the background noise in the room. This background noise is processed and a "negative" sound wave is produced. When the negative sound wave is added to your headphone output, it negates the background noise. Simply put, it's magic,
If you want to know more about the magic, then checkout Jabra's great post on The three types of ANC that explains ANC more indepth.