Noise In The Open Office

A meticulously designed office, without a doubt has the ability to attract and retain top talent. And today’s workplaces offer up a variety of unique spaces: wide open activity zones, sans actual offices in many cases, where light and glass abound. They are unique spaces which speak directly to a corporate culture which embraces transparency and freedom of movement.

And the benefits of light and openness in the office environment have been well documented. Research by Mirjam Muench has found that those who work under artificial light become sleepier earlier than those who work in natural light. Studies of people with and without views of nature – as opposed to either no views, or views of built environments – have found that a view of nature makes workers less frustrated, more patient, more productive, and physically healthier. Open floor plan design in combination with glass walls, allows both natural light and views to filter through an entire workspace. And there’s also the bottom-line benefit: open floor plans are generally less expensive (using a per employee square-foot scale) and quicker to construct than traditional construction involving built walls, assigned workstations and private offices.*

However, open office design does have its fair share of drawbacks. Research has found that a lack of sound privacy adversely impacts employee morale. Additional studies have found that workers lose as much as 86 minutes per day to noise distractions! That is almost an hour and a half, every day.*

Let’s face it – noise is everywhere – chatting co-workers, phone calls, loud office equipment, ringing phones. And the cost of noise distractions is a very pricey dilemma  – costing businesses collectively in the billions annually in decreased productivity.

So how does one create the fluid, open office design that promotes exchange and freedom of movement, while balancing workers need for privacy? It’s possible.

Here are a few simple steps businesses can take to reduce noise in the office without sacrificing style or mobility:


It’s important to create safe-havens or quiet retreat spaces where employees can simply recharge and temporarily disengage from the hustle and bustle of an open office, in exchange for private, focused work. Create environments that welcome workers to temporarily retreat, before getting back to the business of the day out in the open.


On the same token, if you create designated collaboration zones, workers will be more likely to conduct their lively business interactions in workspaces designed specifically for that purpose. This way, employees will understand that work at a shared benching system should be quieter. And if the need arises for exchange or a phone call, there will be lounge, media “huddle” areas and phone booths available for their use.


Installing sound-absorbing materials and textiles is a simple way to reduce noise distraction without comprising style. Carpet tiles, acoustical paneling, workstation partitions, sound-absorbant ceiling fixtures and hanging fabric partitions are easy fixes. Going a step further, customized drop ceilings and feature walls outfitted with sound proof materials go a long way in masking sounds, and they can be customized to match your corporate branding.

Open offices, no matter how artfully designed, will be ineffective if sound management isn’t a part of the initial design process.

To learn more about all that goes into designing open workplaces that make the sound cut, please contact us.

* Research from: Calisi, Stout, HBR, Cover Illustration by Rami Neimi for Atlantic


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