A design and build contractor can provide a full turnkey solution that consolidates the various moving parts on your project in order to streamline your workplace transformation. This also means workplace study, design and construction phases overlap, reducing the overall project delivery time.
Our top office design recommendations to reduce noise:
It’s a Friday. You have a mountain of unanswered emails sitting in your inbox, clients chasing overdue reports… and that training deck you promised HR! You start tackling that challenging question your frustrated client sent over this morning but it’s SO hard to concentrate!
One of the guys from senior leadership is sitting nearby shouting passionately down the phone about corporate strategy. It’s flu season and people are coughing violently around you which intermittently breaks up the obnoxious laughter from colleagues that have already tapped out for the week. Focus. Start typing. The office phone starts ringing. Ignore. Where was I? The guy from senior leadership finally enters a meeting room, but the triggering sound of him now dialling into a Teams call can still be heard through the door. No that sentence doesn’t make sense. Delete. Bang on 10 am the fire alarm starts ringing for its routine weekly drill.
Ugh… why didn’t I just work from home today!
What if working from the office didn’t have to be like this?
What if it was possible to dial the volume down to focus, and then hike it back up again to catch-up with colleagues during your coffee break?
It’s not just the employee experience that is tainted by poor workplace acoustics, but the damage to organizational productivity is immense. In fact, research by Steelcase found that the average person loses 86 minutes a day due to distractions and once a distraction occurs, it can take as much as 23 minutes for the mind to return to the task at hand. The findings reinforce that “the workplace has a very real impact on employee engagement”.
So, what can office and facilities managers do to reduce noise levels in the workplace?
In this article, we have outlined 10 key strategies to absorb, mask and prevent noises in the workplace to enhance concentration. Our suggestions are based on real-world experience designing, implementing and monitoring noise reduction strategies in workplaces across the UK and Europe.
1. Pre-Emptive Zoning & Space Planning
If you are looking to fit out a new office or are open to totally rethinking your existing office design, zoning and space planning is an essential first step. By strategically grouping noisy and quiet areas, interior designers can create acoustic buffers to minimize sound travel.
For many organizations, an activity-based working (ABW) model helps to clearly define the intended use of different areas for different business activities. This may include the creation of allocated breakout areas for social use, spatial separation of call operatives from other departments, dedicated areas for team collaboration versus video conferencing, and other strategies.
However, studies have shown that ABW can increase noise levels as employees migrate around the office during their workday. Therefore, ABW setups must be carefully balanced with other noise-reduction strategies.
2. Sound Masking
Studies have shown that a significant contributor to distraction in the office environment is from speech. In fact, a Finnish study found 48% of participants reported speech as the most disturbing source of noise in the office.
Unlike traditional noise cancellation, sound masking systems do not eliminate sound. Instead, they introduce a gentle background hum, rendering speech and distractions notably less intelligible or noticeable.
This innovative approach is being pioneered by companies such as Acoustics by Design. It is designed to enhance acoustic comfort for employees by blending ambient noise seamlessly and creating a consistent auditory environment. It effectively ‘masks’ or covers up unwanted noise, fostering a more comfortable and productive workspace.
Ultimately, by reducing the impact of background chatter and other disturbances, sound masking contributes to improved workplace productivity and satisfaction among employees. For instance, a study in an experimental office environment reported significant improvements in short-term memory re-call with the introduction of a sound-masking system.
However, calibration and customization are critical for optimal performance, and improper installation can lead to ineffective results. Striking the right balance in volume and frequency is essential to achieving the desired masking effect without causing discomfort. Always consult with an acoustics expert before installation
3. Partitioning & Acoustic Wall Panels
Partitions act as physical barriers, preventing sound waves from traveling freely and bouncing off surfaces. By segmenting open spaces into distinct work zones, wall partitions absorb and diffuse sound, creating quieter and more focused areas. This intentional division not only provides visual privacy but also contributes significantly to creating a more acoustically controlled and productive workspace, ultimately improving the overall quality of the office environment.
Incorporating sound-absorbing materials in the construction of these partitions enhances their effectiveness in minimizing noise levels. For example, using double glazing for glass partitions or a soundproof drywall for solid partitions which combines several layers of gypsum boards and steel.
On top of this, acoustic wall panels are designed to further absorb sound waves. By strategically placing these panels in high-traffic areas, you can significantly reduce noise levels. These work well in open-plan spaces such as an atrium or breakout area to provide some spatial segregation without compromising the open-plan layout.
Walls can also be treated with an acoustically transparent fabric which is stretched over a sound absorbing core and fixed in a nylon track forming a frame. This option offers the ability to print images onto the fabric, creating vibrant meeting rooms that elegantly and effortlessly reflect your brand and corporate values.
4. Ceiling Treatments & Acoustic Baffles
Ceiling tiles also play a crucial role in sound absorption, and selecting the right material can make a substantial difference in noise reduction. The market offers a variety of products based on acoustic foams, mineral fibres, and even recycled materials such as wastepaper. The best products can absorb around 70% of sound that strikes it.
However, increasingly modern office design features exposed services in the ceiling as opposed to traditional drop ceiling tiles. This reduces sound resorption and has a marked impact on noise levels, particularly in open-plan offices.
To combat this, acoustic baffles and islands - sound-absorbing panels or blades suspended from the ceiling – can absorb 100% of sound that hits it, reducing noise levels dramatically. In addition, they are also becoming increasingly popular due to their aesthetics as well as being a relatively cost-effective solution compared to more invasive building modifications.
5. Sound-Absorbing Flooring, Carpeting & Rugs
Underestimated but effective, carpets and rugs absorb sound, especially in areas with hard flooring.
Flooring brands such as Milliken offer sound-absorbing products designed to reduce in-room and through-floor noise by up to 50%. By strategically placing these carpets in focus areas, you can minimize noise reflection and create a more comfortable environment.
6. Meeting Booths & Pods
In the modern office, meeting booths and pods are indispensable for private conversations or focused work. These modular units can be placed strategically throughout the office, offering employees a quiet retreat when needed.
The best products maximise space efficiency while preventing users from feeling cramped. They often feature ventilation systems, power options and a suite of customizable elements. Another benefit of meeting pod solutions is that they can be moved around the office, allowing facilities teams to try and test different approaches.
Some example products include:
7. Desk Dividers
When you think of desk dividers, you probably envision the type of stale workstations that were popular in the 1980’s.
However, in an open-plan office, individual workstations can still benefit from smaller and less intrusive desk dividers. By providing a physical barrier between workstations, these dividers effectively absorb and block sound, reducing the transmission of noise across the open environment. Many modern desk dividers also incorporate sound-absorbing materials, such as acoustic foams, enhancing their effectiveness in creating sound-controlled spaces.
Many manufacturers offer a variety of customization options, including bespoke fabric upholstery. They can even double up as a pinboard!
Biophilic design elements, such as indoor plants, not only enhance the aesthetic appeal of an office but also contribute to noise reduction. By strategically placing greenery throughout the workspace, you can create a more serene and productive atmosphere.
Living green walls, vertical structures with different plants and greenery attached to them, are becoming increasingly popular in offices. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, green walls serve as effective sound absorbers. According to a recent study, they can reduce ambient noise by up to 8 decibels.
These vertical gardens also contribute to improved air quality by filtering pollutants and increasing oxygen levels. As organizations prioritize sustainable and wellness-centric designs, living green walls emerge as a holistic solution for modern offices.
9. Modular Office Furniture
Careful consideration of office furniture layout can have a significant impact on noise levels.
Modular furniture plays a pivotal role in noise reduction within office spaces. Its customizable and adaptable nature allows for strategic placement to act as sound barriers, minimizing the transmission of noise. By incorporating sound-absorbing materials into modular designs, such as acoustic panels and fabric finishes, these pieces effectively absorb and dampen sound waves. This not only fosters a quieter environment but also provides flexibility in creating designated work zones.
The versatility of modular furniture enables organizations to tailor their office layout, curbing noise distractions and contributing to a more productive and harmonious workspace, where individual focus and collaboration seamlessly coexist.
10. Noise-Cancelling Equipment
If all else fails or you do not want to invest in fittings or furnishings, noise-cancelling headphones have become a popular tool for employees seeking increased focus and privacy.
Encouraging employees to also use these headphones for video conferencing and phone calls can also improve concentration for nearby colleagues.
To mitigate the impact on staff performance, it is crucial for organizations to keep a tab on noise levels in offices. Beyond experiencing it for themselves, facilities teams may consider conducting sporadic staff surveys and providing safe and accessible feedback environments for employees to express concerns around noise.
However, it is also important to consider confounding factors. For example, an employee that sits close to a printer or social area is likely to be affected by noise more than one that sits in a quiet corner of the office. State-of-the-art employee survey platforms, such as Audiem, can help to separate individual employee experiences from the crowd to better inform workplace design. For more information on how we incorporate employee data into our office designs contact us at email@example.com.
How we can help
We have over 13 years of experience delivering office fit out and refurbishment projects from 2,000 up to 85,000 sqft across the UK and in Europe. Our turnkey design and build offering enables us to seamlessly deliver workplace transformation projects from conception to completion, streamlining the procurement process. As a commercial office furniture dealer, we also have exclusive access to discounts of up to 60% on best-in-class office furniture products - including several brands referenced in this article.Learn more about our services