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Open Plan Office Acoustic Design

office acoustics

If you work in an office space with an open floor plan, you know it comes with pluses and minuses. They are great for encouraging interaction and creating a sense of community, but they can get loud and reverberant if not treated. If you’ve got poor office acoustics in your open spaces, utilizing acoustic treatments in the office can dramatically improve the sound.

What are Office Acoustics?

In order to improve your office acoustics, you’ll need to understand what they are and how they affect employees working inside. 

The acoustics of any room are defined by the size and shape of the room, as well as what materials the surfaces are made of. Those basic parameters affect the way sound moves within space. Some combinations result in poor sound, while others result in great sounding spaces.

No matter what size and shape your open office space is, treating it with acoustical materials is the ticket to improving sound across the board. So, why is improving office acoustics important?

How Important is Improving Office Acoustics?

If you have little experience with office acoustics, you may be wondering whether or not improving the acoustics in your own office will make a noticeable impact. The short answer is: it will.

Noise canceling for office spaces is huge. Not only is noise a huge distraction and thoroughly annoying, but it can also have negative effects on our health. Chronic exposure to noise can raise stress levels, cause problems with concentration, and lead to lower productivity among employees. Controlling that noise will keep your employees happy and healthy.

In an open plan office space, acoustical treatment is even more important. The large footprint and high ceilings make it ripe for audio issues. If your walls and floors are composed of a lot of stone, metal, or glass materials, the issues amplify further. Sound levels that might work in a smaller space can become a real nuisance in an untreated office with an open floor plan. You’ve got to do something about it.

How to Improve Office Acoustics to Reduce Noise

Now, to the meat of the topic. If you want to know how to reduce noise in open floor plan office spaces, you’ve first got to identify where the noise is coming from.

Noise Coming from Outside the Office

If your office is located on a busy street, near a bustling playground, or shares a wall with a noisy neighbor, you may need to take measures to keep noise from affecting your employees. Reducing these kinds of sounds is accomplished by soundproofing your walls, windows, and doors. Soundproofing won’t necessarily improve your office acoustics, but reducing the overall noise levels will leave you with fewer sound waves to deal with.

Fully soundproofing thin exterior walls can be an involved endeavor, but there are some simple steps you can take to significantly reduce the amount of noise that makes it into the office.

Use Mass Loaded Vinyl

If you’re looking for an easy way to allow your walls to block more sound, mass loaded vinyl is a great option. You can roll it on yourself, so you can add mass and density to your walls without paying expensive labor rates. 

If you’d like to take it a step further and have a little DIY know-how, you can add a second layer of drywall on top of the vinyl. It’s another layer of protection and gives the wall a more finished look, but make sure your studs are strong enough to handle the added weight before taking this step.

Install Window Inserts

Windows are notorious weak spots in exterior walls. If your walls are solid and you’re still dealing with a lot of noise, your windows are the likely culprits. Installing new windows is a great option, but it gets expensive. Also, if you lease the space, you probably don’t want to invest a huge amount of money into someone else’s property.

You can add soundproofing abilities to old windows much more cost effectively with window inserts. They are available in standard and custom sizes, so you can add an extra pane of glass and an air gap to your existing windows at a significantly lower cost than a full replacement. They are also easy to install yourself, so you’ll save a lot on labor costs.

Seal Any Gaps

If you’ve got any gaps around your window and door frames, those are spots where sound can pass through with no obstruction. They also create drafts that make your HVAC system work harder to keep you comfortable. Make sure they are well sealed.

If your door doesn’t form a tight seal, you can use a door seal kit to make it more soundproof. They allow the door to open and close normally but create a tight seal when the door is closed. Door seal kits are also a great way to add a level of privacy to any room in the office.

Noise Coming from Inside the Office

If your primary source of unwanted sounds comes from inside the office, you’ll tackle it a little differently. Instead of blocking sound waves, you’ll be looking to absorb and scatter them. This is known as acoustical treatment, and it’s the way we are going to improve the office acoustics. 

The most effective means of treating your particular space will depend upon the specifics related to your office acoustics, but any acoustical treatment plan includes the same kinds of materials.

Acoustic Panels

One of the most recognizable and important parts of any acoustical design is the acoustic panel. Some people immediately picture foam egg cartons when they hear the term, but acoustic panels have come a long way over the years. 

You can find fabric wrapped acoustic panels in any color you could want, and they can even be custom printed with company branding or any other graphics file you’d like to see on your walls. Underneath the attractive fabric cover, you’ll find dense, porous material that absorbs sound waves across the spectrum. 

Acoustic panels for offices are most useful when placed in the 3-6 foot range, since that’s where most people’s mouths are, and that’s the direct line for speech sound waves. If you’re wondering how to reduce echo in an office, this is it.

Ceiling Clouds

In an open plan office, acoustic panels shouldn’t be limited to the walls. They can be mounted to the ceiling or suspended to create visually stunning acoustic treatments. Suspending acoustical panels as ceiling clouds combats noise and improves office acoustics in a couple of different ways.

The reason offices become reverberant or echoey is that the sound waves reflect off of your harder surfaces and back across the space. Built up sound waves in the room make it louder, and it can quickly decrease speech intelligibility. Ceiling clouds drop into the space and absorb those reflected waves before they make it to the other side of the room.

Ceiling clouds are also a great solution for industrial designs with exposed pipes and ductwork. Suspending ceiling clouds below those loud utilities can help absorb a good deal of the sound waves they create before they ever reach your ears.

Sound Diffusers

Another way to combat echo and reverb is to scatter the sound waves, so they don’t reflect directly across the room. Sound diffusers contain multiple surfaces at different depths, meaning the sound waves that impact them get scattered around the room. It’s a simple but essential tool in improving your office acoustics.

Microperforated Panels

If you’re looking for office noise reduction solutions that hide in plain sight, microperforated panels are an elegant option. These panels can mimic nearly any finish you can dream of through veneers and printing, so you can create an uncluttered surface that fits your interior design plans. They can be mixed and matched, and you can use them on walls and ceilings and everything in between.

Each panel contains thousands of nearly invisible holes that allow sound waves to pass through, reducing echo and reverb issues in the room. Add an acoustical backing to your panels to give them superior noise reduction capabilities.

Acoustical Curtains

If you’d like to create separate working spaces within the room, acoustical curtains deliver visible and audible separation in a modular package. Acoustical curtains are thick enough to absorb sound and light but light enough to move around the room incredibly easily.

If you’ve already got area defining furniture or cubicles in the office, but still deal with excess noise, acoustical curtains act as great divider extenders and desk noise blockers.

Area Rugs and Carpeting

Another large, reflective surface that can affect office acoustics is the floor. Not only can it reflect a lot of sound waves, but hard floors actually create more noise than softer ones. Simple things like walking to the water cooler or scooting your office chair across a hard floor creates impact sounds that contribute nuisance noise to the room.

A simple solution to this problem is to put down an area rug or wall to wall carpeting. These basic sound absorbing materials for offices absorb some waves, though not as much as acoustic panels, but the reduction of impact sounds may be their main benefit. When we have fewer sounds in the room, we have fewer sounds that need to be absorbed.

Reach Out for Help

Each office space is unique and can benefit more from certain acoustical treatments more than others. Don’t waste time and money by buying products without a plan. Reaching out for a consultation will ensure you choose the right commercial acoustics products the first time. We’ve ignored office acoustics for far too long. Let’s do something about it.