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7 Ways to Create a Quieter Office Space

Posted on Feb 1, 2017, by Mike Brown

Noise levels are one of the biggest sources of workplace complaints. As well as hampering productivity, prolonged exposure to even relatively low levels of office noise leads to elevated stress levels.

To tackle the growing levels of office noise complaints, we're looking at seven changes you can make to create a quieter office space for clients.

Featured image: Splunk, San Francisco, California, USA. Design firm: NicholsBooth Architects

Structural Changes

Structural changes to clients' offices will have the biggest impact on noise concentrations, because they impact the entire space, rather than having a localized effect on just one corner of the office.

1) Ceilings

Replacing regular ceiling tiles with acoustical ceiling tiles will help to reduce noise levels.

To meet the WELL Building Standard, reverberation in an open office cannot exceed 0.5 seconds. Acoustical ceiling tiles are specifically designed to absorb more ambient sound and reduce reverberation in a space, helping to bring noise levels in line with WELL Building requirements.

2) Floors

Replacing hard flooring with carpet will have a significant impact on office noise levels. All carpet will improve noise levels compared with hard surface flooring, but cushion-backed carpet tiles offer the ultimate in noise reduction.

Cushion-backed modular carpet absorbs 50% more noise than hard-backed tiles, which in turn absorb three times more noise than hard flooring.

3) Dividers

Sound travels further in open offices, with no walls to block noise from conversations, moving chairs, and foot traffic.

One way to counter this is to install dividers and provide workers with their own cubicles. However, while this will be effective at blocking more sound, clients will lose the collaborative benefits of having an open office space. It will also block light as well as sound, creating a less pleasant working environment.

Alternatively, you can install panels such as those made by FilzFelt, which create an attractive design element and improve office acoustics while still allowing some light to pass through.

Layout Changes

Altering the layout can make a substantial difference to office noise levels, by managing the flow of people and changing how various areas are used.

4) Zone Your Space

In an open office, it's crucial to make a distinction between your heads-down workspace, breakout areas, and communal areas, such as kitchen and dining facilities.

Particular noise levels will be acceptable in different spaces. If you have clearly defined breakout areas for informal meetings and collaborative work, and kitchen spaces for eating and conversation, your heads-down workspace will become quieter because casual conversations will be taking place elsewhere.

5) Build in Closed Spaces

While an open office is perfect for encouraging collaboration, the addition of private, closed rooms will make a noticeable improvement in noise levels throughout the space. Closed-off spaces give employees areas for meetings and private phone calls, removing this additional noise from the main workspace.

Furnishing and Equipment

In addition to larger structural and layout enhancements, there are smaller changes available, such as particular furniture and equipment, which can also help to reduce ambient noise.

6) Include More Soft Furnishings

Soft surfaces absorb more sound than hard surfaces, reducing reverberation and lowering ambient noise levels - just like switching hard flooring to modular carpet.

Consider this simple approach for many furnishings: selecting upholstered desk chairs rather than benching, and curtains or fabric blinds rather than wooden or plastic blinds. You may also want sofas or even beanbag seating in your breakout area, which offers more opportunities to bring soft furnishings into the office.

7) Experiment with Sound Masking

Certain sounds are more distracting than others, and in open offices, overheard speech is the biggest problem. Some organizations have taken an unusual step to overcoming this, using other sounds to block out conversation.

Known as sound masking, ambient noise, such as white noise or the sound of rainfall, is utilized to cover up more disruptive sounds. It's worth noting that this doesn't actually make a space quieter; it just makes some sounds appear less disruptive.

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Mike Brown

Written by Mike Brown