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4 Simple Tips for Managing Acoustics (Noise) in the Workplace

Office acoustics may not be one of the first things you come to mind when planning an office space—after all, it’s invisible. But once work is underway, the noise level (or lack of it) will quickly make itself known.

Think about the last time you tried to concentrate in the midst of chaos--or perhaps you can recall a failed attempt at having a private phone conversation in a hushed library. At best, these scenarios are mildly annoying. In the worst of cases, your employees' ability to get their jobs done is significantly impacted.

According to a study conducted by the University of Sydney, 60 percent of those working in cubicles cited lack of privacy as one of the biggest sources of workplace frustration. And that's not because they have something to hide. It's because they need a quiet, uninterrupted environment so they can focus on getting the job done they've been hired to do.According to a study conducted by the University of Sydney, 60 percent of those working in cubicles cited lack of privacy as one of the biggest sources of workplace frustration. And that's not because they have something to hide. It's because they need a quiet, uninterrupted environment so they can focus on getting the job done they've been hired to do.

So how can you ensure acoustical comfort and maximize productivity for employees?

Start with the ABCs of acoustics

An acoustically comfortable workspace provides an environment where employees can converse privately, interact publicly and work independently as needed. Easier said than done? Perhaps…but it’s within reach for companies that achieve the right combination of these key elements.

1. Absorption

It’s all about the materials. If you’re in the construction or renovation stage, choose specialized materials that absorb sound. For example:

  • Instead of hardwood or tile floors, use carpeting, cork or linoleum flooring, which absorb the sound of footsteps.
  • Ceilings with a high noise-reduction coefficient (NRC), such as the Total Acoustics Ceiling Panels, effectively block and absorb sound.
  • Sound-absorbent walls, like Peter Pepper Ecowall Acoustic Panels, are made from an eco-friendly polyester material that helps control ambient noise levels
  • Look for office furniture with sound-absorbing panels and high backs that act as noise barriers.
  • Instead of hollow and glass doors, which have little to no sound absorption, go with insulated butt-hinge doors or barn doors.

2. Blocking

This strategy involves using barriers—such as portable walls, vertical cabinets and screen dividers—to block or prevent noise from traveling to other areas.

  • In addition to promoting privacy, Peter Pepper Slalom Partitions help reflect sound so it doesn’t travel.
  • Peter Pepper Display Cases serve a dual purpose: they store and showcase office essentials while also blocking sound.
  • Modular partitions can be easily moved to create new configurations to meet changing acoustical needs.
  • Noise cancelling headsets can also be used to block sound when it’s not possible to create physical barriers.
  • Three-dimensional clouds and hanging vertical “flags” can also be used to absorb and divert sound.

3. Covering

Today’s wide-open workspaces may be trendy, but they’re not always acoustically practical. Speaking, keyboarding, phone calls, eating, chair squeaking, throat clearing—it can all impact the decibles in a room. To remedy this, sound masking can be used to create a comforting sense of quiet. Continuous, non-verbal “white noise” will subtly mask speech and other sounds, without employees even registering it.

The Lencore solution is a prime example of effective sound masking on a company-wide level. On an individual level, there are computer programs and mobile apps that allow employees to download personal sound masking, such as Chatterblocker and Ambiance.

4. Change company culture

In addition to furnishing your office (or in lieu of, if your budget isn't quite ready), consider some of these methods of improving sound quality in your office space.

  • Create designated quiet areas. Whether it’s a soundproofed conference room or just an empty office, provide employees with a noise-free space where they can concentrate on work without interruptions.
  • Set aside loud spaces, too.When groups need to brainstorm, friends want to gather for lunch or social events, or individuals need to make phone calls, a designated “noise-friendly” area allows them to be loud without worrying about disturbing others.
  • Get mobile. Once you have your office partitioned into designated “quiet” and “loud” spaces, you’ll need to provide the necessary technologies for employees to move as needed. This includes smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi, headsets and plenty of charging stations. You may also consider implementing a work-from-home option for employees who need to eliminate all distractions during time-sensitive or high-demand projects.
  • Train employees. It’s not necessary to launch a full-blown training session, but take steps to make employees more aware of how their noise level impacts coworkers. Encourage them to limit conversations to enclosed rooms and to be cautious about interrupting people who are concentrating on their work. To boost workplace satisfaction, it’s also important for management to discuss acoustic-related preferences with employees.

Optimize your noise level

As workplaces continue to evolve, it’s important to stay abreast of the best practices for acoustics. Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to revamp an existing office, we can help with office space planning and design. Contact us to schedule a consultation at 877.779.3409. We're here to help!

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