German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once declared that noise ‘is not only an interruption; it is also a disruption of thought’. While you might not take his words too seriously in your day-to-day life, one place this sentiment is often echoed is by workers in open plan offices. Even if tenants haven’t begun work there yet, an open plan layout can lead to reservations about office noise and privacy when they’re looking at moving into your commercial building.
A study by the University of Sydney in 2013 showed that ‘sound privacy’ was by far the biggest frustration for employees working in cubicles or an open plan environment. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can help office noise reduction and reassure customers that their working environment will be both pleasant and productive.
The best time to start thinking about office noise is when you first acquire or build the office space, considering insulation right from the start. Sound insulation can be installed in all walls, or you may prefer to only insulate ‘break out rooms’ or meeting rooms; even glass walls should be made sound proof. If renovating all the insulation is too time-consuming or you already have tenants installed, adding sound absorbing wall panels is a great way to increase office noise absorption. There are now plenty of sleek, modern designs which will add colour to your office walls too; employees won’t even notice their functionality as they become part of the decor.
However grand and stylish they may seem, floors of stone, marble and hardwood can all cause frustrating echoes at the tiniest tap of a heel or shuffle of a chair; even voices bounce off echoey stone flooring. Modern alternatives like carpet are ideal for office noise reduction by absorption. Vinyl floor designs, especially with rubber underlay, can also be used for extra noise insulation. If you like your original wood or ceramic flooring, consider sections of carpet along the most used 'paths' through the office – the corridors people use to access the doors, bathrooms and refreshment facilities – to help reduce the noise.
It may sound counter-intuitive but adding more noise can help reduce it. Adding a constant ‘white noise’ at a consistent volume has been proven to hide unwanted and distracting sounds from inside and outside, such as road noise and loud laughing. Controlling the ambient noise could help improve people’s feeling of privacy too and it can improve creativity. Pleasant ‘white noise’ options, proven to have a positive effect on the office environment, include rainfall, waves or other natural sounds.
Other office noise reduction techniques could be changing the office layout from completely open plan to partitioned cubicles. Not everyone enjoys the cubicle environment though so it’s worth discussing with your customers. Cordoning off the ‘tea point’, if you have one, is another way to cancel out distracting conversations and general clattering from the kitchen. Surround the area with a reasonably high wall so people can’t call over it into the office, and apply some insulation to it to help absorb the extra office noise. You could also invest in high-backed chairs which curve inwards, semi-cocooning the worker, so their own noise is channelled inwards towards them and noise from neighbours is reduced. Alternatively, you could have a pair of noise cancelling headphones for each workstation in your office, although the size of the office will affect the cost-effectiveness of this.
It’s not just large commercial offices where noise can be troublesome. If you also struggle with noise transfer in your home office, or just from room to room, try some noise reduction techniques for in the house.