Too much distraction can mean your employees find it hard to concentrate, communicate or conduct their business effectively. Much of modern office design talks of open plan, easily accessible and collaborative spaces. The concept of calm professional office background noise is firmly established in all our working lives. Unwanted distractions and the need for office soundproofing, however, are rarely mentioned. We think that is a shame because, as we’ve established elsewhere, if you reduce office noise, you can reap rewards in employee focus, performance, satisfaction and retention.
How do you go about it? We’ve talked to the experts so you don’t have to. They have assembled a list of tried and tested techniques you can use to keep excess noise from workshops, for example, nearby traffic or even anti-social neighbours out of your offices.
What Is A Healthy Noise Level In An Office?
Typically, levels of noise in the office workplace sit between 54dB(A) and 60dB(A).
dB(A) is a measure of decibels weighted to reflect the impact of noise on the human ear as well as volume. For reference, 35dB(A) is the recommended noise level for a hospital ward. 60db(A) equates to the hubbub of conversation in a busy restaurant. Most office noise falls within the range considered safe by doctors.
The Health and Safety (C) Regulations 1992, however, state employers must ensure general noise levels are “comfortable”. It states equipment noise should not distract employees, concentration should not be impaired and normal speech should not be disturbed. Relatively low-level noise has been proven to add to stress levels if it regularly interrupts our work.
This doesn’t relate to a specific dB(A) benchmark meaning offices are left to interpret guidelines and identify problems themselves.
The key to success is undertaking regular Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Assessments with employees that ask about noise. These allow members of your team to explain if they are feeling distracted and why. Causes can vary from sitting near staff kitchens or meeting rooms and a desk overlooking the car park to the electrical hum of communications equipment. Regular assessment will let you know if the noise levels in your office are healthy and productive or if you need to take action. If it’s the latter, relax.
How to reduce noise in an open-plan office? We have got you covered with some expert advice below.
1) Identify The Areas Of The Office Where Noise Is Most Prevalent
Through talking to your colleagues and doing formal Display Equipment Assessments, you should be able to identify problem areas in your office. They are often based around equipment, high traffic areas such as kitchens and meeting rooms. You might, however, need to reduce noise from outside. Traffic, workshops, construction and even neighbours may need managing.
Specific areas to check include:
Server, plant and communication rooms
The noise of your electrical and mechanical equipment can cause problems for your office staff.
If necessary, you might want to consider solutions to noise pollution such as soundproof doors and windows.
Reducing noise in office environment can sometimes mean making sure voices don’t travel. By carefully assessing where and how meeting noise escapes, you can avoid distractions
Kitchens and break-out rooms
Understanding how to reduce noise in an open office environment means avoiding imposing controls on your employees. Asking them to keep the noise down or not socialise, chat or enjoy laughter moments is not helpful. By managing noise, rather than trying to cut it out entirely, you can maintain a healthy working culture.
Entrances and Exits
Your choice of windows and doors has a massive impact on how much noise enters your office. It’s worth investing in the best way to block traffic noise you can afford for example. It might make a dramatic impact on your workplace.
2) Create A Designated Quiet Area
An Australian business study found that 95 per cent of employees felt they needed quiet and private areas to get through their working day, but only 40 per cent say their workplaces provide them.
Not all offices can run to extensive office noise reduction solutions, but every business can ensure they provide quiet and peaceful spaces to prevent stress and make their workplace a positive and healthy place to be. Like a train quiet carriage, you can allocate a room or corner in your office a phone-free space, for example. You could encourage people to pause and spend break time reading with some books.
If you have outside space, why not consider a small garden to be especially restful? These are all options that will help your business combat issues around noise.
3) Provide Noise-Cancelling Headphones For Office Work
Often praised for aiding concentration, noise cancelling technology is improving rapidly. Noise cancelling headphones work by using a physics trick known as “phase inversion.” Through electronically manipulating soundwaves, highs and lows can be shifted and made to cancel each other out.
Blocking external noise can prove popular amongst workers who need to concentrate on detail. If you’re working on a complex spreadsheet against a tight deadline, for example, you might enjoy slipping on noise-cancelling headphones for a couple of hours.
However, they can be uncomfortable to wear all day and might make day-to-day office life challenging. Nobody wants to miss an important phone call or miss an invite to lunch. Mandating their use as a solution to nuisance noise is probably not going to go down too well. A more long-term fix is required.
4) Make Use Of Indoor Office Plants
Rather than artificially cutting out soundwaves, there are ways you can naturally absorb and deflect them by changing your office environment. Plants, for example, can usefully bring all-natural soft absorbent surfaces into your office. With careful placement, leaves can deflect sound away from hard echoing surfaces. There is a range of house plants that have been proven to work well when it comes to noise reduction.
If you’re feeling green-fingered, we would recommend investigating the following indoor plants.
Ferns, with their wide leaves, have a huge surface area which is ideal for absorbing soundwaves and reducing noise in open-plan offices.
If you’ve enough space in your office, the fact rubber plants are often tall and have and have broad, thick leaves makes them ideal for reducing noise.
Baby’s Tears (Helxine Soleirolii) is a dense moss-like plant that hangs attractively from its pot. It makes a great sound reducer when elevated off the ground.
Norfolk Island Pine
This is a small, conical, coniferous tree you can grow in a pot. Its distinctive tightly bunched branches provide dense fan-like foliage. Pine leaves have a huge sound-absorbing surface area too.
Palm trees are known for their broad fronds. They stand alone and will stretch out and fill in areas that might be difficult to cover otherwise. They are a great solution if you’re wondering how to reduce noise in a small office.
You can plant Money Trees singly or as a group in a pot. The leaves will stretch out and form a canopy. Any excessive sound gets trapped inside like an umbrella.
5) Invest In Soundproof Windows & Doors
This may feel like a radical solution but if you’re being plagued by noise outside your office, it might prove the most cost-effective long-term solution.
The best soundproof windows, as opposed to standard double glazing, use the latest acoustic technology, engineering and materials to dampen sound vibrations.
Modern acoustic glass, together with sound-absorbing timber frames, can be made to suit any architectural style from ultra-modern minimalist to heritage buildings. Soundproofing can also be used internally.
You may need to keep a noisy workshop from intruding into your office space, for example. Soundproof windows and doors can keep meetings private and ensure important phone calls, or video calls these days, aren’t interrupted.
By investing in soundproof windows and doors you are taking the most decisive step towards a long-term noise-free working environment. If you’d like to know more, you can contact the Hugo Carter team to arrange a visit to your workplace. We can demonstrate the difference we might make.
6) Fit Acoustic Wall Panels
One of the biggest causes of office noise is poor acoustic design. Your office’s internal walls, fixtures and fittings might bounce sound around rather than absorb it. ‘Echoey’ spaces make for loud and distracting places to work. An answer might be to install specialist acoustic panels to your walls and ceilings.
These take many forms. Acoustic ‘baffles’ can be suspended from office ceilings. Absorbing panels can be stuck directly to walls. Free-standing panels can replace standard partitions in open-plan offices. They all work by mitigating background noise and reducing the reverberation and echo in any space. Deployed by specialists, they are one of the best ways of reducing noise in open plan offices.
7) Create Cubicles And Wall Partitions
One of the most effective ways to stop noise travelling through an open-plan office is to introduce partitioning. Creating cubicles, rather than stand-alone desks, will add a whole level of sound dampening to the office environment, cut down reverberation and support quiet productivity. It will also increase privacy, aid concentration and make interruption less likely.
Materials vary from plastics and glass to more natural wood and fabrics. You will need to make decisions based on your aesthetic and practical requirements.
Too many cubicles and internal partition walls can work against a feeling of openness and easy collaboration.
As with many things, a balance between priorities will need to be struck. Used wisely, partitions can be an alternative to costly individual soundproof office rooms.
8) Choose Noise-Friendly Flooring
Our final noise reduction tip is to look under your feet. A hard, shiny polished floor will be poor at absorbing sound and contribute significantly to a noisy workplace. Using sound-absorbing carpets or carpet tiles is a common solution. You will often see specialist carpets in hotel hallways, for example, where late-night noise is a particular concern. Cork flooring tiles also bring good acoustics to large public spaces such as reception areas and meeting rooms.
A lot of science has gone into finding specialist acoustic flooring solutions to help offices reduce noise. These include sophisticated rubbers, types of vinyl and wood-plastic composites. You will have to consider acoustics alongside a whole range of other factors when choosing how to floor your offices. Safety, aesthetics, water resistance, cleaning and durability all need to be thought about too.
Where to Get Help Soundproofing Your Office
If you’re a commercial tenant worried about noise in your office space, the first port of call is typically your landlord or their management company. You should be able to discuss any of the above solutions with them.
There is a huge range of specialist products and services out there to navigate, all designed to make your working life less noisy. The team at Hugo Carter would be delighted to help too. We can provide advice on any aspect of our award-winning range of soundproof windows and doors.