For every design problem, there is a creative design solution. Take, for instance, the outdated and flawed hierarchical office layout where people had individual spaces and rarely interacted with one another. The solution: the open office. But, as we all know, the open office is fraught with its own design issues. One of the biggest being the intrusive sound level within the space.
The floor plan produces too many opportunities for noise with meetings, phone calls, music, and conversation. Those who need to hear you, like customers and colleagues, have difficulty doing so. The result: employee productivity goes down due to an inability to concentrate, and privacy goes out the window. The solution: reduce the sound so that it’s not so loud and disruptive. The way to do it can be attractive and creative thanks to good design.
To save money, most businesses move into already established buildings and need to manage noise pollution, unlike new builders who can design with sound in mind. That said, there are two ways to think about sound as you look at the office space you’re retrofitting.
When approaching the sound solution, bear in mind there are two types of soundproofing to consider: sound reduction and sound absorption. Sound reduction stops noise from entering the building and sound absorption stops noise from reverberating around a space. To determine what your building needs, you’ll want to conduct a thorough sound audit, which includes talking to employees about which sounds create the most distractions for them throughout the workday. You can then determine what kinds of sounds need to be addressed first and work from there.
Sound Reduction Techniques:
- Isolated Soundproof Spaces: Identify and provide acoustical privacy for phone calls and meetings. Not every office has an ideal area to step into to take phone calls and providing this personal space is important for the caller and their co-workers. Office furniture products like booths are perfect for open offices. They give employees a quiet space when it’s needed and provide the ideal spot for a few employees to converse for an impromptu meeting.
- Acoustic Window Inserts: Reduce sound with acoustic window inserts that block up to 70 percent of outside noise. Made of acrylic, these inserts eliminate reverberation inside the building (sound absorption). Because they press inside the window, they are ideal for already existing buildings and won’t disrupt current office design aesthetics. They can also be used to create isolated soundproof spaces. Instead of using them on exterior windows, soundproof a conference room to ensure private meetings are actually private.
Sound Absorption Techniques:
- Wall and Ceiling Panels: Wall and ceiling panels help with sound absorption. Whatever outside noise comes through your walls, windows, and doors and whatever noise is generated inside your office will be mitigated by these. Great options are available today and your office space’s look can be enhanced, rather than hindered, by smart design choices.
- Greenery: From a living wall to a few hanging ferns, plants help absorb noise while making the office a more pleasant place to be. Plus, plants clean the air, are shown to help with office stress, and lead to more productivity. “The presence of green leafy plants has also been linked to enhanced creative thinking,” says Sally Augustin, Ph.D. in Psychology Today.
- White Noise: White noise is the production of audio frequencies over the entire range of human hearing. Because of this, it’s capable of covering up sounds that detract from productivity. Adding white noise machines to shared spaces means fewer employees will have earbuds in as a way to dull disturbing sounds around them.
Having conversations with staff, looking for solutions, and taking steps to eliminate noise distractions will go a long way when trying to increase productivity and employee satisfaction. Though it won’t fix all the flaws in the open office, it will silence one of the biggest complaints.