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Tips For Better Open Plan Office Acoustics

by Media Xpose

Don’t let noise kill your dream of an open and collaborative workplace.

After Covid and with all the load-shedding happening, employees are returning to the office. Fortunately, offices have evolved from listless rows of desks to cubicles to truly free-flowing environments. They symbolize a distancing from clutter and aim to create a workplace in that people want to be energized and creative.

Unfortunately, the idea is not as successful in practice. Open offices are better, but they also generate a lot of noise – and noise may just be the biggest productivity killer. It’s not something that employees can ignore: noise can be very confusing to our brains, resulting in ideas only being half-heard. Try having a phone conversation while there is loud background noise. Even though you have the speaker pressed against your ear, you often don’t even understand what is being said. This is because your brain is attempting to make sense of the phone banter as well as the background noise.

Most companies only realize this after investing in their office design and believe there is nothing that can be done. Fortunately, this is not true: from commercial solutions such as acoustic panels to simply moving the furniture a bit, here are a few tips to kill the workplace cacophony.

Identify Noise Sources

Every solution starts with a diagnosis and sound is no different. Even though sound just comes across as a riot, it’s derived from many individual sources – and certainly not something like a lone elephant…

The first step for ideal open-plan office acoustics is to observe what creates noise in the office. Is the office largely a hive of activity or a quieter place? The distinction matters: there is a huge difference between the office noise levels of a design firm if compared to a call center. You will have to be realistic about the type of environment and how much you can reduce the noise levels.

Once you identify the different sound sources, look at the routes they take. A meeting table in the middle of the office will affect everyone around it. A printer next to a wall could seem louder because its sound bounces off that wall. Build an image of how sound journeys across your open-plan office design, then start to isolate the worst offenders. It may be as simple as adding an acoustic or soundproof door to an adjoining conference room.

Fight Background Noise

Background noise is one of the biggest annoyances for people and a key place to start when looking at office acoustics. But to get a handle on this, you have to do the exercise described above as many noise sources could create a background hubbub. Chatter on phones, air conditioners whirring away, traffic outside the building, chairs scraping on the floor above: these and more are regular noise generators.

But once isolated, they are easier to remedy. Acoustic ceiling and wall panels can help reduce the din of chatter, curtains greatly diminish outside noise, and moving electronic office equipment to the far side of the office all make big differences. You can also invest in indoor plants, which are very effective in scattering sound.

Tackle Chatter Next To Each Other

Sound privacy is perhaps the biggest single complaint from any office workforce, specifically the problem of hearing other conversations. This even has a name: the irrelevant speech effect. But in the quest for office noise reduction, it’s one of the harder problems to tackle since there is a habit to bunch desks around each other.

This is a challenge for open-plan office acoustics because it is counter-intuitive. The very point of putting desks together in an open office is to create an atmosphere of collaboration. Sadly numerous studies have shown it has quite the opposite effect on productivity. The interference from your desk neighbour’s phone conversation is one of the most common complaints about open offices.

Consider new layouts for the office. It may make more sense to have desks pointing away from each other or reduce the number of phones in the immediate area. You can consider using acoustic dividers between desks for improved privacy as well as noise reduction.

Create Specific Sound Zones

Chances are you will not be able to get everything right around open-plan office acoustics because the concept itself is not perfect nor are buildings designed to take the issue to heart. Maybe you simply can’t move desks apart or perhaps that meeting table just has to be in the middle of the space.

It doesn’t mean you are out of options. A popular trend, borrowed from airport business lounges, is to have a quiet space. This can be a segregated area where conversation and phone calls are not allowed. If furnished comfortably and properly, employees can go there to do work that requires deep concentration or to just relax a little.

The ideal acoustic re-mountable partition system creates confidential office spaces within open-plan applications. To achieve the best acoustic glass partition, the COMPLETE ACOUSTIC SYSTEM needs to be considered: Correct glass specification plus an Engineered frame plus the best acoustic door.

Flexible Acoustic Partition Solutions

The above acoustic glass office can seem contradictory for an open plan office, but there is a way to get the best of both. Acoustic sliding partitions can be installed on overhead tracks and moved around as needed. That central meeting table could be temporarily enclosed so what goes on inside does not disturb the tranquillity of the workplace.

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