An essential guide to reducing noise in open plan offices

10 Jan 2024

Open plan offices don’t need to be noisy. 


In contemporary architecture, open-plan offices have become synonymous with flexibility and collaboration. However, ensuring that these expansive environments promote productivity rather than auditory chaos requires a thoughtful approach to acoustics. 


Research has shown that unwanted noise is the biggest problem for employees working in open-plan offices. Would you like to reduce noise levels for the entire office, without having to resort to noise-cancelling headphones or acoustic pods that only benefit a small number of employees at a time?


At Soundtect, we are all about designing open plan spaces with acoustics in mind. Join us as we explore essential acoustical design strategies for reducing background noise and creating quiet spaces in open-plan offices, and delve into the transformative benefits this reduction in noise pollution can bring.


The Challenge of Open Plan Acoustics

Open plan spaces, with their fluid layouts and collaborative potential, present both opportunities and challenges. While they foster connectivity, the lack of physical barriers can lead to increased noise levels, impacting concentration and overall well-being. Not to mention that modern offices tend to be full of hard surfaces that can only absorb 5% of sound, leaving the remaining 95% to reverberate around the room, prolonging unwanted sounds.

But open plan doesn’t always have to mean noisy. Acoustic design is the key to maintaining the advantages of open plan office layouts while mitigating the potential distractions of the open office environment.


Tips for reducing noise in open plan offices

1. Strategic Furniture Arrangement

Plan your furniture placement to act as a sound buffer. Introduce upholstered pieces, bookshelves, or other sound-absorbing elements strategically to break up sound waves and create designated acoustic zones.


Placing furniture perpendicular to sound sources, like TVs or speakers, can effectively minimise the spread of noise. 


2. Innovative Acoustic Panels

Contemporary acoustic panels are designed not just for functionality but as stylish additions to elevate your decor. From bespoke branded colours to biophilic treatments and natural textures, Soundtect’s acoustic solutions can be integrated seamlessly into the design, providing both visual appeal and effective sound absorption. 


Many of our products, whether that be our acoustic ceiling panels, acoustic wall panels or acoustic screens, can all assist with blocking out unwanted noise in co-working spaces and eliminating background sounds. Our acoustic screens make great desk dividers. 


3. Ceiling Treatments

Pay attention to the often-overlooked element of ceilings. Incorporate acoustic baffles or hanging panels that not only enhance the aesthetic appeal but also contribute significantly to noise reduction, creating a more pleasant and focused environment.


4. Carpeting and Rugs

A very simple way to reduce noise in an open plan office is to introduce soft surfaces like carpets and rugs to the flooring. These sound absorbing soft materials reduce echoes and minimise the impact of footsteps or chair movements in high-traffic areas.


5. Plants and greenery

It may not seem obvious, but did you know that strategically positioned greenery has proven effective at reducing noise levels in an open plan office setting? The larger the plant means the better the sound absorption. Installing indoor plants in your office space has the dual advantage of enhancing aesthetics whilst improving air quality.


As demonstrated in our large scale acoustic installation for Arcadia’s workspace, we can seamlessly integrate plants into our acoustic designs, crafting bespoke solutions that marry acoustic excellence with the calming influence of nature’s harmony. 


The Benefits of Acoustic Design in Open-Plan Spaces

Intentional acoustic planning brings transformative advantages to dynamic open floor plans, improving the user experience in these large versatile settings. 

1. Enhanced Concentration

By curbing excessive noise, the cognitive load on our brains is reduced. Acoustic design fosters a work environment where individuals can concentrate and perform tasks without distraction.

2. Improved Speech Intelligibility and Communication

Strategic acoustic planning ensures that communication flows smoothly. Meetings, phone calls, and collaborative sessions become more effective without the interference of ambient noise.

3. Employee Wellbeing

There has been much research to show that a well-designed acoustic environment contributes to the overall wellbeing of occupants. Reduced stress levels and improved comfort create a more positive and productive workspace.


The Leesman Index office survey reports that just 30% of office workers are happy with the acoustics in their workplace. 


According to research from the British Journal of Psychology, a noisy workplace can increase stress and reduce employee productivity by up to 60%. Some tests have shown unwanted noise leading to illness and a higher turnover of staff.


4. Flexibility and Adaptability

In the modern workplace, activity-based working has become an important productivity booster. Acoustic solutions enable the customisation of open-plan spaces according to the needs of different activities. From focused work to collaborative discussions, the space can adapt to various functions without compromising comfort or a lack of sound privacy.


By thoughtfully integrating acoustic elements into the design process, we create environments that not only look impressive but also prioritise the wellbeing and productivity of those who inhabit them. 


In the dynamic landscape of modern workplaces, acoustic design is an indispensable tool for crafting spaces that resonate with creativity, collaboration, and comfort.

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