The open-plan office design has been widely adopted across businesses – and for good reason; it creates a friendly environment, improves communication between employees and brings people from different levels of the organisation together. However, on the downside, working in an open-plan workspace can sometimes be noisy and make employees lose focus. And noise in an office can be a workplace nightmare. A UK study found that noisy workplaces caused distractions to 3 in 10 workers .
Things to know before opting for an open space office
For optimal open-plan working, carefully choosing your premises is crucial. At least 12 sq. metres per person are required to successfully manage acoustics. Another thing to remember is that the ceiling height must be appropriate for the size of the office space, as this helps to better distribute and reduce noise.
Ensuring that there are some private spaces, such as pod enclosures or meeting rooms, to prevent noise disturbance caused by phone calls and so on, is essential. Glass wall surfaces are also something to avoid.
Successful office design
We've listed a few office design guidelines that will help you to reduce noise in open-plan work environments:
- Make sure to soundproof noisy zones, such as the kitchen area, relaxation and games areas or spaces housing noisy equipment, such as printers, photocopiers, and the like. It is also advisable to make equipment such as ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems as silent as possible.
- Separate all the quiet zones and collaboration zones. It’s important to do so, while according to JLL workplace research providing access to quiet workstations can boost productivity by an additional six percent.
- Invest in suitable furnishings to enhance employee comfort. There are many partitioning systems available that allow you to create individual spaces in the office and that have a sound-absorbing effect. Partitions, screen dividers and acoustics devices are all excellent ways of ensuring that confidentiality and noise disturbance are not issues in the office space.
- Cover office walls or ceilings with non-sound reflecting materials. Opting for a material like melamine foam that absorbs noise is a good solution, especially in private spaces within the open office, such as pod enclosures and meeting rooms. It’s also worth using sound-reducing paint, a simple way to mitigate mid-range frequency sound in the office.
- Limit through-routes in your workspace. Using colours and lighting, it is possible to create different atmospheres and materialise passageways or transition areas.
Establishing good practice for open-plan working
To promote healthy working relationships among staff and help reduce noise in open-plan workspaces, some rules of conduct are needed, in particular:
- Being quiet and not talking too loud in the office to avoid disturbing colleagues
- Leaving the room or going into a private space to make personal or business phone calls
- Placing mobile phones on vibrate
- Setting business phone lines to a reasonable noise level and to silent when out of the office
- Using signage to show one's availability
- Going over to see colleagues rather than calling them across the room.
Useful equipment and devices that can reduce noise in the office
A number of devices can help to reduce noise in open-plan workspaces, the first being a traditional set of earplugs. Another more costly but effective device is an active noise cancelling (AfNC) headset.
With one of these, you can give your employee their own personal sphere of silence and boost their concentration; they can even listen to music at the same time.