17 ways to reduce Office Noise, sound management in open plan offices
How do you cut office noise?
With a continued focus on efficiency, productivity, space management and collaborative working it’s no surprise that businesses, both big and small, have embraced the concept of the open plan office design.
Unfortunately, many of these benefits can be lost at the implementation stage, with poor design, layout and space planning leading to issues with the most common employee complaint…. office noise.
In fact, a Harvard Business Review post highlighted a case study that revealed as much as 86 minutes per day were lost due to noise distractions alone.
Are you aware that you have an office noise issue?
It may seem strange, but studies have also revealed that managers/business owners are often unaware that they have a noise problem. After all, what seems like a busy, thriving, office hum to some is a distracting ‘din’ to others.
What’s more, we all have different sensitivity and tolerance to background noise and, of course, this will vary by the task you are trying to undertake.
So do you have an office noise problem?
Noise is best defined as unwanted sound and can take many forms such as:
- Conversational noise. Conversations at a water cooler, breakout areas, meeting area and colleagues on the phone….. conversations can be very distracting. Once you multiply this across a large open plan office, it’s no longer a quiet buzz!
- Machinery noise. Printers, photocopiers, scanners, pc boxes, kettles… offices are filled with time-saving equipment but very few of them are quiet. Whether it’s the item in operation or the people and conversations it attracts, machinery becomes an office distraction.
- External noise. Many offices are connected to a workshop or production area and as a result are impacted by the working noise. While machine operators are often protected from the repetitive & loud noise by ear protectors, the office based staff rely upon walls to prevent disturbance… sadly they often don’t.
From distracting conversations to outside factory noise that prevents you thinking clearly, acoustic disturbance can be stressful, harming both productivity and decision-making.
However, if you’re not sure whether you have an acoustic issue it’s simple to find out… ask those working there!
17 ways to cut office noise
The good news is that, even if you work in an open plan office, there are many ways to tackle this acoustic issue and we have put together a list of some of our favourite ideas and suggestions.
- Bench system screens
Desk bench systems are a hugely popular way to make the most of limited office space. While they are great for encouraging sharing of ideas, they don’t always give the quietest environment for those working at them. Acoustic friendly desk fitted screens can help absorb and deflect some of the noise, creating a quieter environment for colleagues.
- Removing PC boxes from desk space
It’s still popular to keep PC boxes on the desk, often supporting the monitor. Not only does this cut the available working space it also brings the hot fan and pc noise closer to the employee. This issue can be removed by simply ‘hanging’ a PC under the desk and putting the monitor/screen on an arm – this is also far better ergonomically.
- Isolating IT equipment
Printers and photocopiers contribute to the office sound both in terms of when in use but also as they tend to be natural gathering points for employees. Centralising this equipment to a separate area, particularly one screened or partitioned from the main working area will significantly reduce noise levels.
- Dedicated quiet spaces
Where high levels of concentration are needed on a task, it’s more practical to have a dedicated area to work in than trying to make an office silent!
- Dedicated noisy spaces
Whether it’s a team meeting, enthusiastic discussion, training session or just somewhere to chill and eat lunch, providing an area where people can make noise means that they won’t disturb others in the space.
Yes, really. Not only do plants bring some much-needed greenery and colour to the office, they also help break up noise. Or why not go one step further and have a ‘living’ wall, as shown below, bringing the outdoors in!
- Office screens
The clever placing of screens can help deflect and break up noise in your office space. They can be used to create dedicated quiet or noisy areas, or just to break up large office space.
There are a variety of screens available and they do not have to be an unsightly barrier that ruins the look and feel of your office. Ideas such as a coloured screen that matches your branding, a dramatic canvas ‘sail’ or a ‘living plant wall’ can all add to your office design and even create a talking point.
In addition it’s worth considering free-standing screen as this allows you a lot of flexibility in terms of finding the best locations to place them and being able to move them when you re-organise your office space.
The introduction of panels to walls that are specifically designed to absorb sound are a particularly good and cost-effective way to reduce disturbance.
The good news is that wall panels are not only effective but can also look good, with many installations looking more like artwork than a sound panel.
Similar to wall panels, ceiling panels can also deflect and absorb sound. There are some clever ways to hang ceiling panels to add interest to the office design too with our favourite being some ‘flying’ V-flaps that help to dissipate noise while looking cool!
- An acoustic wall
Using the latest super acoustic bricks that are made from foam and wool fabric you can introduce a wall that can help break up an area and dramatically reduce unwanted sound.
- Office partitions
Office partitioning, including stud partitions and glass walls, offers a very good way to create quiet zones, meeting rooms or separate noisy IT and staff breakout areas from the main working area.
Although you lose a little in flexibility compared to screens, partitions offer better sound reduction and create much more private work spaces.
- Meeting booths & pods
Meeting booths and pods (see above) give a flexible way to create meeting spaces within an open plan office while reducing the impact of noise. Perfect for collaborative working the pods use acoustic material to help reduce noise while also creating a comfortable working environment.
- Quiet pods
Standalone quiet pods (see above) are an increasingly popular way create separate working space within an office. Heavily sound proofed they keep the noise or out and create a ‘statement of style’ in the office.
- Noise friendly flooring
Many flooring surfaces reflect noise back towards employees and therefore exacerbating the situation. Choosing the right flooring materials, ones that can absorb office noise or reduce vibration under machinery for example, can help to reduce loud & repetitive sounds.
- Masking sounds
The use of low level ambient sound can have the effect of cancelling out distracting noise or simply making it less distinctive and therefore easier to ignore. There are a number of products that are available on the market to help you achieve this in your office.
- Humourous signs
Some office noise issues are more office etiquette related. An effective way to deal with this is the use of clear, humorous signage to show acceptable volume levels and how to respect others in the work space.
17. Layout….your starting point
There are a range of products and ideas that can help you reduce unwanted office noise but the starting point should always be to look at your office layout. Have you made the best use of your available space, can you cut the likelihood of noise travelling, is there a better way to lay it out to make it a better working environment for your team?
Working with an office interiors specialist means that you benefit from the latest thinking and best practice. They will be experienced in the issues you have and have great knowledge on how to overcome them.
Looking for more inspiration?
If you are looking for some more officer interior inspiration then take a closer look at some of our recently completed projects in the Source One showcase»
Experts in office interiors
Source One Consulting are East Anglia’s leading office interior specialists, working with businesses of all sizes across the UK.
Out team includes experts in all aspects of noise management, from acoustic screens and partitions to free space planning and design.
Call us on 08456 031 585 to find out more.