Six design tips to manage office acoustics

Along with temperature, noise is one of the most complained about parts of working in an office environment. In this blog post, we share our top tips for managing and improving the acoustics in your office space.

Why are office acoustics important?

Offices are fantastic for so many things. They encourage collaboration and communication. They enhance creativity and company culture. But there’s no getting round the obvious. A vibrant office can often be a noisy office. This is particularly true if acoustics weren’t considered when the office was first built.

If you’ve ever worked in a noisy office yourself, you may have experienced how irritating a loud workplace can be. But poor office acoustics are more than just a bit annoying. They can significantly impact concentration levels and plummet productivity. In fact, a recent study found 60% of office workers were unable to concentrate because of workplace noise. Even small disturbances were found to be enough to affect concentration and increase stress levels.

How can I manage sound in my office?

All is not lost! Even if the acoustics in your office building are poor, there are plenty of things you can do to remedy the situation. Here are some simple ideas for how to manage and improve noise levels in your building: 

1. Space management

Carefully arrange your teams can make a huge difference to noise levels in the office. Even if you are a hotdesking office, you could consider zoning teams in certain areas based on the nature of their daily activities. Employees can still hotdesk – but choose their workspace in a particular part of the office. This will help you to keep traditionally noisy teams away from those need to have a more focused approach to their work.

Rather than group specific teams together, another option is to create different areas in your office for different tasks. For example, a section of your office could be designated to individual and quiet work. Another area could be for teamwork and collaboration. Staff could then choose which area to sit in depending on their work responsibilities that day.

Different workspaces available for staff to select

2. Quiet spaces

Collaborating with colleagues is fantastic but there may be times when privacy is needed. Whether your employees need to make a private phone call, discuss a confidential project or simply take a break from the hustle and bustle, designated quiet spaces always come in handy.  

A growing trend in office design is the introduction of office pods or ‘Zoom Rooms’. These are standalone, soundproof spaces that individuals or groups can work in away from the rest of the office. Usually, they are bookable alongside other meeting rooms – although some companies prefer to operate them on a first-come-first-served basis. As they are not fixed rooms, they also have the added benefit of being more easily dismantled or moved if you decide to refurb your office at a later date. 

An office pod for small meetings and informal gatherings

3. Biophilic design

A great way to improve office noise is by the introduction of plants and other greenery (often referred to as biophilic design). Soundwaves bounce off hard surfaces creating bad office acoustics. Plants are natural sound absorbers and stop sound from bouncing around.

As a rule of thumb, the larger the plant, the bigger the noise reducing impact. This makes statement greenery and living walls a fantastic option. But even smaller plants will make a big difference. Alongside the acoustic benefits, plants also improve air quality and workplace aesthetic. They really are a win-win!  

Biophilic design in action with a statement tree and living wall

4. Furnishings

Unfortunately, hard surfaces are abundant in offices. Large floor areas, desks and bulky cabinets are just some of the office items that can reflect and amplify sound. But there are ways to ‘soften’ surfaces that don’t cost the earth.

Starting with floors, carpets rather than hardwood floors, for example, really help to control unwanted noise. Upholstered furniture, such as sofas and breakout chairs, are also a good option and absorb more sound than their wood or plastic counterparts.

Textiles in all their forms also make a big difference. Furnishing your office with curtains, cushions and even wall hangings will help to trap sound waves and stop noise levels becoming unmanageable.

Sofas, cushions and other soft surfaces help with office acoustics

5. Sound absorbing materials

If textiles aren’t right for your office, there are other materials you could introduce that have a similar sound-absorbing effect. Acoustic foam, for example, can be used to line ceilings, improving acoustics and adding a point of interest in the room.

Strategically placed acoustic panels also help to deaden unwanted sound. They come in a range of different materials and can be simple and minimal or bold and bright to create a statement.

These panels can be mounted on walls or suspended from ceilings. When suspended, they can also be used to help with office zoning by neatly dividing workplace areas.

Acoustic panels suspended from ceiling

6. Play ambient noise

Research suggests that noise itself isn’t distracting – it is unwanted noise that causes the issue. To mask irritating sounds, you could try playing low-level, ambient sound instead. White noise or sounds from nature, such as bird chirps, wind chimes or rain, have all been shown to have a relaxing effect.

Another option is to take this a step further and invest in your company’s sonic branding. Also referred to as ‘the expression of your brand through sound’, a sonic branding specialist will be able to create a soundtrack just for your business. As well as helping with unwelcome noise, this could also help to reinforce your unique office culture.

Sound good?

Better managing and improving noise levels in your office is not only good for business, it also has a positive impact on the wellbeing of your employees. If you’d like to upgrade your office acoustics, get in touch to see how we can help.

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