The Healthy Workplace: Noise

office design to reduce noise

How great office design can stop noise ruining your open plan workspace

Is noise a problem in your open plan office? In the second of our Healthy Workplace series we share our tips to reduce noise and distraction.

Open plan offices are a popular trend as they promote collaborative working and a beautifully designed office can be a useful factor in recruiting and retaining talent.

However, whilst they undoubtedly have many benefits such as natural light and views, noise in an open plan office is one of the most widespread environmental concerns that not only puts stress on our ears but also on our hearts and minds. Indeed, a 2014 study by Steelcase and Ipsos found that workers lost as much as 86 minutes per day due to noise distractions.

So how do you balance a collaborative and creative environment with a workplace that allows for concentration when needed?
When planning an office layout we have found that there are several things businesses can do to reduce unwanted noise including providing a variety of loud and quiet workspaces. These solutions often fall into two categories: Space Management and Sound Solutions.

Space management

Provide dedicated quiet spaces: Acoustically private areas (e.g. for telephone calls, face-to-face meetings and tasks that require focus) offer respite from typical office noise, ensuring employees are not constrained by a loud open plan space. These spaces are designated for non-group work and can help provide a place for workers to be more productive than at a shared desk or in a cubeless office.

Provide loud spaces too: In contrast, businesses can also designate areas around the office that encourage interaction and discussion. Acoustically-paneled collaborative points will provide employees with areas for teamwork without disrupting others. There’s even an acoustic telephone booth that could be added to an office to be used for private phone calls.

Office equipment: Printers, photocopiers and other equipment which are loud and have an abundance of foot traffic can be placed at points away from the main workspace with sound insulation. This should allow for those creative water cooler talks to continue while limiting some of the greater sources of noise.

Sound solutions

Sound absorbing materials: Asking about the sound efficiency of potential materials with your office design team is a great place to start. Sound absorbing materials are often used on the fittings of the building (such as wall cladding, roofs and floor tiles) and sound barriers (storage units, desk paneling) can be appropriated as a means of blocking noise carriers and possible listeners.

Don’t sacrifice design: Cubicle partitions and standard white acoustic ceiling tiles are the most common ways to block and absorb sound. A more creative solution can be drop ceilings that soak up sound and incorporate shapes, colours and designs. Walls can even be decorated with pieces that double as both high-quality soundproofing materials and unique pieces of art.

Sound masking devices: A recent development, these systems emit familiar unobtrusive background sounds that cover up unwanted noise – often at the frequency of human speech (known as ‘pink noise’). This allows staff the option to focus on cognitive tasks or collaborate with colleagues and be more motivated and productive.

Plants: We all know the benefits that plants can bring by adding oxygen to the office but did you know that plants can change the acoustics in an office? Plants can actively absorb some noise that may distract employees from their work. Strategically placing larger plants around areas that create higher noise levels, such as meeting rooms and receptions will also greatly reduce the sound level.

And finally…

Take a break: You’ve probably seen in the news how ‘sitting is the new smoking’ and Tim Hanwell, founder and osteopath at Officeworks recommends standing up at least twice an hour. By getting up and moving around the office we’re able to breathe deeper, take in our surroundings and shake off that feeling of being pinned to our desks.