Adrian Norman discusses how getting the acoustics of your office on-point is essential to maintain productivity and minimise time lost to noisy distractions.

Adrian Norman

Head of Design

18th Mar 2019

Acoustics in the open plan is a favourite bugbear of many and often times it’s tricky to resolve. Really, in my opinion, all you can do is absorb. Your open plan workspace must be designed to absorb as much sound as possible! If excess noise isn’t absorbed, it just reverberates around the room and builds – much to the annoyance of those working there.

Activity-based acoustics

As designers, we want to include lots of surfaces for absorption. The good news is that much of the upholstered furniture we specify, including those which support activity based working, have great noise-absorbing properties. High-backed booths and seating pods not only keep noise from travelling, but they also absorb unwanted sounds around them too. In addition, we can also incorporate wall panels, perforated ceilings, carpeting and partitions. It’s so important we understand the purpose of these strategies so they aren’t value-engineered out of the project when the budget gets tight!

yellow acoustic meeting room

Promoting productivity

Concentration is the driver of acoustic design; much in the same way collaboration gave rise to open plan working. There’s been a significant shift towards accommodating concentration to aid productivity, but also wellbeing. Our survey of 2,000 office workers found that 33% couldn’t find somewhere quiet to work. Just think how you feel listening to your colleague chatting loudly on their mobile while you’re in the middle of writing an important email or report; it’s stressful. On top of this, research shows it takes an average of 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption, and alarmingly the average time between interruptions is only 11 minutes.

There are two models for your concentrative layout – distributed and zonal. The distributed model sees areas for concentrating dotted around the open plan, while the zonal is essentially the office equivalent of a quiet carriage on a train. In both of these scenarios, etiquette for usage needs to be clear and well communicated. If adhered to, everyone should be able to find a space perfectly suited to the task at hand without hampering the productivity of others.

Office phone booth