Office Furniture Works

ABC of Office Acoustics

“What can I do about noise and distractions in an open environment?”

With 70% of U.S. workplaces reporting some form of an “open office” layout, this question is frequently posed. Office acoustics are a major factor in how well work environments support their occupants’ productivity. Acoustics are the characteristics of a space that determine how sound travels within it. Sound is a “propagating disturbance” – meaning that it travels like a wave, displacing the existing pressures in it’s path. So, without anything to interrupt it’s travel, sound will continue propagating throughout a space. When left unaddressed, the myriad of consistent sound in work environments (HVAC, appliances, coworkers & visitors, etc.) will almost certainly distract & detract from the productivity of the occupants.

If, three cubicles down, gory details of parting ways with a significant other are described, you’ll lose focus. Research shows it takes 23 minutes to return to tasks at hand after being interrupted, and noise is frequently reported to be a major workplace distraction. The study of office acoustics focuses on how to minimize the impact of those (sometimes inevitable) noise distractions.

Office Acoustics are Easy as “ABC” – Absorb, Block & Cover

“A” Stands for Absorb.

Acoustic absorption is sound energy being distributed throughout objects, as opposed to open space. An object with a low-enough density will prevent sound from traveling further. Soft materials are the (not so) secret to absorption in regard to office acoustics.

Carpeted flooring and acoustical ceiling tiles are very helpful, but not everyone is able to control the factors contributing to poor office acoustics (especially when leasing space). Having fabric-covered cubicle panels with acoustic batting inside help reduce sound transmission and reverberation. If you have hard surface flooring, utilize your walls. Mounted acoustic panels will help absorb sound deflected by hard architectural surfaces. Decorative/branded acoustic panels are widely available, and can also be a simple do-it-yourself project. Acoustical panels can be bought in 4×8 sheets, easy to cut with a hand saw and upholster using spray adhesive & staple gun.

“B” Stands for Block.

Sound blocking refers to preventing the transmission of sound from one area to another. Blocking sound is the best way to keep it from traveling, and focuses on the recipient of noise. A standing, face-to-face conversation in an open office is likely audible to anyone within earshot and, even more likely, distracting. A barrier between the conversation and workstations will deflect the sound which, in turn, lessens the intensity of the noise. Only physical partitions can block sound transmission, and erecting walls is a costly option.

Have a loud employee consistently causing a disturbance in your open office environment? You have a few options. First, have a conversation with them about cubicle etiquette. Next, you can invest in sound masking (discussed below) – potentially effective, but definitely expensive. Finally, you can give them an office for being rude. These are real scenarios and you are welcome to guess which one has not ever worked.

“C” Stands for Cover.

“Covering” sound reduces noise distractions by adding sound to a space. This process is most commonly referred to as “sound masking”. Sound masking systems are a series of speakers that emit a low-level sound. These speakers, installed over areas of concentrated noise, sound similar to air going through a duct. This sound reduces the intelligibility of human speech and other potential distractions. When you aren’t hearing what people are saying word-for-word, you’re less likely to become distracted by the noise. Sound masking systems work well in large, open work environments. Office acoustics are inherently poor in open spaces since there’s nothing to absorb or block sound transmission. The sound masking prevents excessive noise distractions by dampening traveling sounds.

Thanks for Reading!

Improving your office acoustics can have a dramatic impact on workplace productivity.

And it’s as easy as “ABC”. Office Furniture Works has a variety of solutions to help you absorb, block and/or cover sound in your workplace. We can help you assess if there’s a better option than buying products to combat noise distractions. Whatever your needs may be, we’re here to make your work space work as hard as you do. Struggling with the impact of your office acoustics?

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