If you're reading this, you're probably experiencing an issue: your office is too loud. We're not only talking about some light chatter in an otherwise silent space. We're talking about noise from the air conditioning, traffic outside the office, nearby construction space, etc...
As aesthetically pleasing as today's open office plans are, they come with a downside: excess noise. Hardwood floors and glass walls are pretty, but they don't reduce sound as softer materials do. You're left with an office that looks great but keeps employees from being able to concentrate.
This lack of soundproofing can impact a company's bottom line as well. A study found that a lack of sound privacy was the biggest detriment to employee morale. If employees can't concentrate and aren't motivated to work, your company will become a revolving door of talent. You'll have to move through an expensive hiring an onboarding process. Even with the increase in the Work From Anywhere Movement, employees still need the office to be a place of focus.
With these tips, you'll be able to bring the sound down to levels you can tolerate and get everyone working again.
The problem with some open office designs is that they treat every area equally in terms of sound. For example, your desk in the corner can have the same noise level as the kitchen on the other side of the office. This puts the burden onto individuals in each work area to deal with sound levels that aren't conducive to work. If you work in an open office, you and your coworkers have likely put on your noise-canceling headphones just to get work done.
Designing spaces for specific noise levels is the key to creating balance. Consider placing "loud rooms" like a kitchen or couches far from groups of teams. Clear differences in the location or setup of working spaces also show a difference in intended sound levels.
Take a page out of the activity-based work playbook as well. You should be designing your space with different workstations in mind for what people need to use them for. Diverse spaces mean people can use what they need without disturbing their neighbors. The right mix of conference rooms, huddle spaces, and areas for heads-down work helps cut noise.
Some of these solutions give increased noise privacy to those looking to make phone calls or have one on one meetings. Acoustic phone booths are a great resource for those looking to work in silence or have a conversation without disturbing their neighbors.
Although your hardwood floors look great, they don't do a great job at keeping sound down. Adding sound-absorbing materials like carpets, acoustic ceiling tiles, and (believe it or not) plants, all help lessen the sound in your office.
This doesn't mean that you have to turn to wall-to-wall carpeting, but a little can go a long way. Add some decorative rugs in places that look sparse or some plants on wall space. You'll have made your office a little more homey, as well as reducing some noise.
Carpet is the best for controlling sound, but most companies and employees don't enjoy the look or feel of it in their offices. The next best material is vinyl. Sound absorbent, vinyl flooring comes in patterns that look like real wood or tile. Parterre Flooring offers many options of vinyl flooring that are specifically made to absorb sound.
Panels are some of the best products on the market for reducing noise bouncing around your office. Well placed wall and ceiling panels absorb noise in your office and can easily be a part of your office decor. Wall paneling doesn't have to be boring either! Some options look like murals or other art you'd find hanging in a trendy office.
Acoustic ceiling panels are also an option while leaving the exposed ceiling open. Like wall paneling, these panels are offered in styles that help it blend into your office's unique style while eliminating sound.
Using sound to combat sound actually works to reduce unwanted noise levels. Companies like Cambridge Sound provide speakers that use software to emit white noise in loud areas. They're broadcast at the same frequency as human speech, making it less intelligible. The logic is that unintelligible human speech is less appealing and therefore less distracting. Setting this up in areas near kitchens or crowded spaces can make it easier for those closest to focus on their work, all while only hearing white noise.
Although this might not fix overall office sounds, they're great for the individual worker who prefers to work in crowded areas. They can sit in silence while still seeing their colleagues. You'll want to find a pair that fit over your ears to block out as much sound as possible. Active noise-canceling technology is also a must. Bose Quiet Comfort 35 headphones have built a following for being lightweight and great at blocking out noise. With a pair of these, any point in the office will be your own quiet space.
With these solutions in mind, it's time to soundproof your meeting and conference rooms. These are the spaces where you're most likely to have louder conversations with coworkers most often when you're in the office. If they aren't soundproofed correctly, those located closest to them will be hearing a lot of excess noise and conversations.
Before deciding what type of noise reduction material to use for your meeting rooms, you'll want to do a sweep of your office for noise. Walk around on a busy day and see where things are the loudest. Are there any teams that use the phone more often than another? How far from the kitchen do you have to be before you hear people talking?
Based on how your noise issue currently stands, you can find out where your problem areas are. Soundproofing those areas can help nip sound in the bud before you go through an expensive meeting room overhaul.
Although they might sound like the same word (you just want to get rid of the sound right?), they're different solutions to your noise issue.
Sound absorption is what eliminates the sound from outside of your meeting room from getting in. This stops ambient noise, echoing, and the poor acoustics in the conference room.
On the other hand, soundproofing stops your sound from leaking out. This is what people usually think of in terms of sound reduction for meeting rooms.
The balance of sound absorption and soundproofing are essential for getting the most bang for your buck in noise reduction. There are two types of products for the job - sound blockers and sound absorbers.
Sound blockers are heavier and need to be air-tight to eliminate the vibration from outside sound leaking in. Sound absorbers are lighter and work to soak up the sound coming from inside of your conference room.
These barrier sheets can be installed in walls, floors, and ceilings of your meeting room. They're heavier and more complex to install, but they're your best line of defense.
Sound absorbers have a few more options to be considered. They're lighter and come in more products and styles to best fit your needs. Acoustic ceiling tiles do a great job of regulating your sound without being noticeable. Acoustic partitions are a little more noticeable but are light and easy to move around. They stand on the ground, but offer the same levels of noise balancing as a hanging tile.
Although you've figured out the sound issues yourself, professionals are best for a meeting room overhaul. They'll install products correctly, and you won't have to keep making adjustments. There's a whole industry built on soundproofing, so it's easy to find a pro to use.
Sound is a complicated issue for offices, but with these solutions, we hope it'll be easier for you to get under control. Next up for your office: setting up your conference rooms.