Why Is My Office So Noisy? The Value of Acoustics in an Open Office

Why is a Calm and Productive Workplace So Valuable…

If you have worked in an office before, or even if you are sat in one right now, chances are you are well aware what is meant by the term ‘open office’. Designed with the promise of collaboration, community and bonding, the open office theoretically had/has a huge amount of potential. In fact, a well-balanced office can even be a useful tool in attracting and retaining talent. Yet despite all this promise, the open office is a key source of frustration for office workers worldwide.

Whether it’s chatty co-workers, incessant phone ringing or even just the subtle hum of an air conditioning unit, the open office is plagued with constant and nagging distractions. While one instance of a noise can break our concentration, a persistent distraction inevitably leads to irritation and frustration. So, if you are prone to clicking the cap of your pen several times a day, you may be causing more of an issue than you expect. Chances are you are one of the many reasons why open offices make businesses less productive rather than more efficient.



Understanding Acoustics: The Science Behind It

Noise is one of the most studied factors when considering the impact of the open office. It also happens to be one of the most common complaints among employees who work in them. With that in mind, this is arguably the best place to pinpoint where the flaws in open office design are. To get a better understanding of why open offices are prone to becoming cauldrons of perpetual noise, it’s best to re-visit how sound waves work.



In the context of the office, these sound waves, like ripples you see by dropping a stone into water will bounce from solid surface to solid surface until they eventually dissipate. So, if you’ve got rustic stone walls, a thinly carpeted floor and no barriers in between, then any noise is going to travel all the way across the office and back again. Therefore, if you’re prone to tapping your pen on the desk or whistling when you’re bored, then there’s a good chance that everyone else can hear you.

Now, without locking people away in sound-proof boxes, how is it possible to concentrate in the presence of noise? Well, this can be explained by the changing state hypothesis, which in simple terms means that when a noise becomes anything but repetitive, then it is likely to drag our attention towards it. For example, we can filter out telephone conversations which regularly occur in the background, but when that person lets out booming laughter then it’s going to make you sit-up and take notice.



Ripple in the Water – Photo Courtesy: Alex Coltus



The Relevance of Acoustics to Your Workplace

Still with me? Okay, so how does this apply to your office. Perhaps you are one of the hundreds of thousands who endure the open office every day. Perhaps you’re a manager wondering why your staff never get any work done. The bottom line is that a poorly designed office damages employee morale and drains productivity. This is a core reason why huge companies are able to retain talented staff. Where they work makes it easier for them to concentrate, carrying out there work more efficiently and effectively without stressful distractions.

If you want to get more from your staff and yourself in an open office, then consideration for acoustics is vital. While distractions are annoying, persistent interruptions lead to frustration and frustration can strain relationships with co-workers long term. Considering that open offices are supposed to be happy, collaborative workplaces, keeping everyone in close proximity to each other can cause more problems than it solves.



Subtle Solutions That Can Boost Your Productivity

So, is it possible to reap all the benefits of an open office? All while eliminating issues surrounding noise and distractions? There is, and the key to this is being flexible – both the office and you.

  • Headphones

The simplest solution you are likely to find. If you were to wear them throughout the day, sure, it would eradicate the purpose of the open office. However, they can be a valuable tool to have on hand when you need to concentrate. Not only do they signify you’re not to be disturbed, but they block most if not all surrounding ambient noise.


  • Flexible Workspaces

A rising trend, and one which is embedded in many modern offices for example at Google is hot-desking. This separates the office into various pods which adhere to different types of work. For example, quiet areas where talking is banned, loud areas where collaboration is encouraged and hybrid areas where you may find a permanent desk of your own. With this system, each employee has the freedom the pick the right environment for them.


  • Soundproofing

The best way to confront noise issues is at the source. Soundproofing can be a far more valuable option if you don’t have room to implement a hot desking system. As we covered earlier, sound waves will reverberate for longer if they are hitting a hard surface. (Much like why your voice always echoes in a cave.) The way to address this is by using soft surfaces which are designed to soak up some of that sound wave. Carpeted flooring is a decent start, but to really make an impact, consider tools such as acoustic partition screens and acoustic wall panels.

The designs of these are increasingly in-keeping with modern workplaces. Having the means to soak up that ambient noise helps create an office which is far less distracting.



An Example of a Modern Office – Photo Courtesy: Bakoko



While the second and third options here do require some investment, the return can be substantial over time. If an office is constantly being frustrated by continuous noise throughout the day, then this only encourages stress levels to rise, creating issues that were not even necessary in the first place.

Whether you are an employee or an employer, office design is increasingly vital to the longevity of a business. By creating positive working conditions, this helps both you or your staff to focus for longer. This leads to better results which are a plus for everyone. While sound waves may be invisible, they surround us all the time. Addressing them in the office creates a solid foundation to build upon.




Go Displays are specialist manufacturers of office partitions, acoustic pods and acoustic wall panels. With decades of experience in the industry, they have extensive experience creating bespoke solutions for modern offices. To further discuss the opportunities within your office design, you can give them a call on 01733 232000 or send an e-mail to [email protected].




A quick shout out to Infinity Exhibits who featured our infographic on their blog. If you would like to find out more, then head over to their site.



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