Noise is a productivity killer. However, some people simply lack the means to fight against it on their own. This will make them underperform, feel more stress while at work, and generally see their work environment as more hostile.
A traditional cubicle system used physical barriers to keep the volume down; however, is it possible to stop the noise from ruining your open office? Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.
In order to make your office a quieter place, you need to take an approach in multiple steps. First, you need to identify all the sources of noise. Then, you need to take a step-by-step approach and eliminate them one by one.
Soundproof the Office
There are a lot of ways to soundproof your office. Designing acoustic design is achieved through a three-pronged approach. You need to install elements that are designed to handle the noise sources by:
The simplest way to make your walls and ceilings absorb the noise is to install quality acoustical panels. While other acoustical products can also do the trick, this is probably the most effective method to handle the situation.
Blocking in an open office is a bit problematic. Normally, this would be handled by cubicle partitions, but now this is not really an option. Still, it is possible to use some furniture like semi-open shelving to achieve pretty much the same effect.
Sound masking is an effective but somewhat controversial method of improving office acoustics. On the one hand, it doesn’t really make the space quieter – it just makes it seem quieter. However, in terms of reducing sound types described as noise, it does a pretty good job. By raising the ambient noise levels, you can make the speech noise less intelligible. Needless to say, this also makes it less distracting.
Reducing the number of employees in the office is also effective. Since today you can create a virtual office quite effectively, you can let a part of your staff work from home. This way, you maintain the same workforce size and give your open office room to breathe at the same time.
Careful with Flooring
With so many people in your office space, there’s bound to be some foot traffic. Now, the noise of this foot traffic will depend on the surface that people are treading on. Some floor types are more floor absorbent than others, which can be expressed through their IIC (impact insulation class).
- IIC 50 are flooring options like a stone floor. The hardest surfaces produce the most noise when threaded on.
- IIC 60 are hardwood floor, laminate, and vinyl. This type of flooring is softer than IIC 50, but they are still not sound-absorbent.
- IIC 65 are flooring options like cork and carpet. These are naturally the softest and the quietest flooring materials in terms of foot traffic.
Keep in mind that when designing an office, you also need to think about the wear and tear of the flooring and its maintenance. This makes cork and carpet less than ideal for office spaces. In other words, IIC 60 is the best compromise solution you have available.
The thing you need to remember is that every single option has a number of methods that could make it quieter. More often than not, making the room quiet requires you to install an extra layer below the actual surface of the flooring on your mind. The solution that you employ will probably depend on the type of flooring that you’re dealing with. For instance:
- Under a hardwood floor, you’re supposed to install a rubberized membrane or a siliconized release sheet.
- Under tiles or stone, you can use a special thin-set mortar designed to improve its acoustic properties.
Of course, the simplest way to improve the acoustical properties of your flooring is just to add some rugs to the mix.
Quiet Equipment and Peripherals
Another source of noise comes from the working equipment. Not all computers are made equal, and by investing in hardware, you will make your office space a quieter place.
Inferior hardware running demanding software will cause the device to overheat. This will make the device fans work extra hard, producing a loud humming noise in the process. In order to keep the place quiet, you need to ensure that your hardware is up to the task.
No one is distracted by the noise produced by their own keyboard. However, others might be distracted by it. When purchasing equipment for your office floor, make sure that you invest in silent keyboards. This will add an extra cost, but it will definitely impact the overall noise in the office.
If a tree falls into a forest and there’s no one to hear it, will the noise that it produces disrupt anyone’s work? Of course not. Just try to put things into perspective and remember that you don’t have to make your office objectively quiet, just prevent the noise in it from distracting your staff. To achieve this, you could get your entire team some noise-canceling headphones to make the office a quieter place.
Finally, office equipment like printers and scanners can also produce a great deal of noise. In order to handle this properly, you need to do two things. First, do your research on the noise before buying. Second, place them in a position that is as far from the workstations as possible. This will cause more foot traffic, but this is a problem we’ve already dealt with in the flooring section.
All of these design tricks can help you make a more noise-resilient office space; however, you need to do more. The key thing is that you talk to your staff and let them know that the noise level in the office is up to them. Choosing foot traffic paths, keeping their own volume down, and respecting the fact that some of their colleagues are still working (even if they are on the break) will do wonders.