In a typical open-plan office, the list of noisy distractions is endless, from loud phone calls and office banter to piped music.

Reducing noise levels

The obvious answer would be to design fewer open spaces with more doors and closed spaces. While this approach might be ideal for some, there are other less radical solutions.

The ideal office noise level should be no greater than 60 decibels and this is achievable through effective office design.

Some of our recent projects have focused on what is known as the “third space”, that is essentially anywhere in the office environment away from the desk. Staff are spending less and less time at their desks and are working in these third spaces, which can be informal breakout areas, dedicated rooms where individuals can concentrate or meeting rooms where they can perform project-based work.

Designing breakout areas where staff feel comfortable working alone or in groups can result in decreased noise levels, as noisier activity is moved away from the open plan. This also fosters greater collaboration and removes the need for Spotify on loop.

Incorporating different types of rooms within an office where staff can work in small groups or alone can also have a positive impact on productivity. In fact, introducing small rooms where phone calls and conference calls can be taken are becoming increasingly popular.

Changing the furniture

Office furniture also has a key role to play in workplace acoustics, with many designs now incorporating furniture designed specifically for informal meetings and catchups. One common solution is the high-backed booth (shown below). These booths can host team catchups and can be equipped with screens to facilitate teleconferencing, screen-sharing and presentations. As they have high backs, noise doesn’t travel.

The importance of office acoustics and its proven link to productivity means that it should never be overlooked. While we are focused on designing offices that feel and look good, we must also design offices that sound great too.