Wednesday, Aug. 23rd 2017

10 Tips for Great Open Office Acoustics

Did you know one of the most common complaints of employees in open office areas is poor acoustics and a lack of speech privacy? Good open office acoustics are closely tied to productivity and comfort. Furthermore, a lack of speech privacy increases the probability that discussions of confidential company information will be overheard by others.

In this article, we’ll explore tips to design a workplace space that also offers acoustic comfort.



1. Keep Acoustics in Mind While Zoning

Before laying out the office, note which job functions generate noise and which require quiet. Separate them! Some functions, such as Human Resources and Finance, may require special acoustical consideration, since they work with sensitive information.

In addition, places where people meet and collaborate may require acoustic separation from other areas. These areas include:

  • Meeting/conference rooms
  • Printer stations
  • Break rooms and cafeterias
  • Lobbies and reception

Sometimes simple wall construction provides sufficient acoustical isolation. However, some spaces may require more substantial partitions for proper acoustic separation. 


2. Include a Sound Masking System

A sound masking system produces low-level, unobtrusive background sound. By raising the noise floor to a consistent level, the system reduces auditory distractions and lowers speech intelligibility from other sources.

A sound masking system that is poorly design, installed, or tuned may be rejected by staff as annoying.  The best sound masking systems do their job without calling attention to themselves. When added to existing facilities, sound masking systems should always have a commissioning ramp that slowly raises the masking noise level up over several weeks. This allows employees to get used to the system over time, improving effectiveness and reducing complaints. Systems can also ramp the masking noise levels down during off-hours to improve the ability of security personnel to hear potential problems, and reduce power consumption.

Consultants such as AVANT ACOUSTICS can design customized sound masking systems tuned to meet the varied challenges of different areas throughout the office. Check this blog next month for a more in-depth look into sound masking systems.


3. Absorb Sound

For great open office acoustics, you’ll need Oabsorption on several surfaces. Floors and ceilings are particularly important. High-quality ceiling tiles play a significant role in sound absorption. Alternatively, spray-on acoustic treatments can be used for beamed or concrete ceilings. In open office areas, most of the ceiling should have some sort of acoustical absorption. Acoustical treatments hung from the ceiling also help absorb sound.

For floors, carpet, cork, and linoleum will help absorb the sound of footsteps. Where practical, consider that thicker carpets that provide much better absorption.


4. Position Panels Wisely

The proper positioning of acoustical panels and other sound-absorbing material can impact their effectiveness significantly. On ceilings, space sound-absorbing panels uniformly distributed throughout the space.  A checkerboard pattern is a common layout that is quite effective. This  type of spaced arrangement maximizes the effectiveness of smaller quantities of absorption due to diffracted sound energy around the perimeters of the panels and the additional absorption of the exposed panel edges.


5. Block Sound

Install cubicle partitions at least 52-inches high between workstations. The partitions should have a solid inner septum and tackable, sound-absorbing materials on each side. 

You can also improve the acoustics by getting creative with furnishings and finishes. Try hanging acoustical panels or banners in decorative patterns or as wayfinding markers. Consider a modular acoustical screen that employees can move and use as needed. These barriers will interrupt sound waves and improve the overall room acoustics.

For conference rooms or private offices, consider full-height, slab-to-slab partitions to provide real acoustical isolation for private conversations and presentations.


6. Go Green with Acoustic Materials

Tell your acoustical consultant about your project’s green design requirements. She can recommend acoustic products that meet your criteria. Interestingly, some acoustic materials do not market their “green” qualities. However, an acoustical consultant has familiarity with such products, and can provide useful recommendations.


7. Rethink Lighting

Large ceiling light fixtures can reflect sound between work stations and cause acoustical annoyances in open office environments. Locate large fixtures only in transition areas and use smaller lighting fixtures for special lighting needs in the work spaces.


Cubical layout with greater speech privacy

Example of cubical layout with greater speech privacy.

8. Set Up Smart Seating

The farther employees sit from one another, the higher the degree of speech privacy. Remember this simple principle when planning workstation layouts. Seat workers on opposite ends of adjoining work stations, if possible, and try to face them away from one another. In addition, stagger the entrances to workstations so that no direct line of sight (or sound!) exists between employees.


9. Select the Right Technology

Why collaborate at your cube when a conference room with an interactive monitor is around the corner? Fill private areas, such as meeting and conference rooms, with technology that will lure workers from open areas. Plus, these tools can enhance creativity and efficiency! 

Furthermore, consider providing workers with mobile technologies. Laptops, smart phones, wireless connectivity, and charging stations will make it easy for employees to move locations, either for privacy or interaction. Also, avoid speaker phones in open office areas. Instead, locate collaboration technology in closed offices and conference rooms.


10. Think About Acoustics Early!

Retrofitting a space to fix poor acoustics is far more expensive than addressing acoustics at the beginning of a project. For example, a wall separating a break room from workstations can be built with sound-blocking materials during construction. An acoustical consultant can recommend materials that will achieve the desired level of noise control. 

However, waiting to address acoustics until the owner complains may require rebuilding the wall, replacing ceiling tiles, or making other costly and disruptive changes.

Want to talk more about open office acoustics? Don’t hesitate to Contact Us!



Posted in: Acoustical Consulting, Tips & Tricks  |  Tagged with: ,

2 Comments on “10 Tips for Great Open Office Acoustics”

  1. Ridley Fitzgerald Says:

    You have some great tips for acoustics in an office. I like how you said that a sound masking system can raise the noise to a consistent level, so it won’t be so distracting. I work in an office that has a ton of annoying noises, so I’ll suggest this to my boss.

  2. Access Doors and Panels Says:

    The noise can be raised to a more tolerable level using sound masking technology. Thank you for sharing excellent information with us.

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