We’ve talked previously about whether open plan offices are good or bad, but for some businesses they’re the best – and sometimes only – option. Making the most of your commercial property can have a big impact on your business, but that means dealing with some of the drawbacks, too. That’s why it’s important to think about how to deal with noise in an open plan office.
There are plenty of ways to keep the noise to an acceptable level, from things you can do with your employees and their support to the office itself. We’re going to list a range of ideas, some you can act on immediately and others that need a bit of forward planning.
What Is Noise In An Open Plan Office?
First, however, what is noise – and, more importantly, what is acceptable noise?
This is something that each business owner has to decide for themselves, as noise means something different to every individual. The nature of the company may be noisier than others simply because of what they do, or the nature of its environment.
Understanding how to get the best out of your workforce means catering, where possible, to the different needs of those employees. Some thrive in loud, vibrant environments, while others prefer quiet. This can directly impact their productivity.
In an office, especially an open plan office, noise can be anything from echoing footsteps to never ending chatter and discussions. Whether this is between colleagues or from people on the phone, some workers may find it distracting. Identifying what you class as noise, and what is acceptable, means you can take steps to reduce anything unwanted.
The next problem, however, is that some people thrive with some noise and others don’t. So, how do you please everyone? That largely depends on the workforce you have, and having frank discussions with your employees can help.
Reducing People-Made Noise In The Office
There are two main types of noise, with people-made noise coming from people, like conversations, actions or interactions that can’t always be avoided. While not all of this can be stopped, there are ways to help reduce this on both individual and wider scopes.
Rearrange The Desks
One of the quickest – and simplest – things you can do about people-made noise in the office is to rearrange the desk structure. A common setup is row after row of desks as this makes the best use of space in a lot of situations. However, depending on who sits where, and what kind of inter-team work is needed, this can lead to noise across rows – and that doesn’t include office chatter.
One solution is to move desks into groups where teams sit together, and close to teams they are more likely to work with. This won’t eliminate all noise, but it can help reduce how much carries over to other parts of the office. There are plenty of options for desk layout to consider, though.
Use Acoustic Screens Or Dividers
The open plan office has mostly done away with the idea of cubicles or separators that let people work in their own little boxes, but that doesn’t mean some screens or dividers can’t be of use.
With the right material, these screens can absorb or muffle sound, stopping it from carrying too far. They don’t have to be large either, just enough for noise to be contained in an area – usually on a row where a team sits together and needs to talk at points during the day about their work.
The size and number of dividers will vary, but we don’t want to cut off people from others in the office entirely. That goes against the idea of an open plan office completely.
If reducing the general noise made by people in the office isn’t an option, or not the atmosphere you want to create, then there are other ways to help those who prefer quiet or silence to find their ideal working conditions, and a good example is noise-cancelling headphones.
These devices have made great strides over the years, improving in design and construction to reduce more noise than ever before. They can also channel different sounds depending on the user’s preference, whether that’s music, podcasts or something else. This is different from office noise as it can be more focused and help workers focus by letting them control what they hear.
Provide Quiet Working Spaces
While open plan offices create an environment that fosters a sense of team spirit, not everyone excels in this environment. Even if it’s just for shorter periods of time, everyone can benefit from quiet areas when they really need to focus on a tough task or looming deadline. Ensuring there are quiet working spaces can help people focus when they need to.
Whether these are separate rooms or just sections sheltered from the rest of the officer with dividers or other furniture, they should still allow workers to complete all their tasks as easily and efficiently as they do from their desks. This does use up space, but the benefits can far outweigh the costs of this.
Keep Meetings Separate
Meetings, whether in teams or with visitors to the office, should be kept away from desks or spaces where noise can travel if possible. By having to contend with the noise of the office, participants are going to speak louder and an unofficial contest arises as everyone fights to be heard.
Whether it’s making use of quiet spaces, pod-like areas or dedicated meeting rooms, find a solution where meetings can be held away from the general office. This lets everyone involved focus and be heard without shouting, while the rest of the office noise doesn’t have to increase to drown out the conversations from the meeting.
Structural Changes To Reduce Noise In An Open Place Office
Other noise can come from the building itself, noise penetrating the office from outside and even technology or equipment required to complete tasks. Some solutions to reduce this noise require much more work and investment than others, but every little can help.
Invest In Acoustic Insulation
Noise can come from anywhere, even outside. Making sure the building your office is in is properly insulated can help reduce this source of noise, as there are plenty of soundproofing options available. Especially in the middle of a city or near a busy road, for example, this can really make a huge difference.
Whether this is done through every wall, or through the addition of soundproofing panels, you’ll notice a difference straight away. You can incorporate a lot of these materials into the office’s design and aesthetic, too, so it doesn’t have to stand out like a sore thumb with a bit of careful planning.
Look At The Flooring
Depending on the type of flooring installed in your office, you might find a lot of noise coming from something as innocent as people walking around. Depending on what goes on, this could be a constant source of noise or every so often, but both have their problems.
A constant noise from people walking is just more added to the mix and makes people talk louder to be heard all of the time, while the footsteps could be distracting if people walk around only every so often.
With the right floor material, such as carpet or different floorboards, you can reduce this noise and make for a better environment in the office. Some materials are also sound absorbent, which can be beneficial, too.
Using Acoustic Pods
Pods can be a great way at creating quiet spaces in an open plan office, providing a haven for those who need some quiet to complete a task or have a quiet discussion about a task. With the right materials, these pods can block sound from entering as well as any noise from reaching the rest of the office at large.
There are plenty of pod designs out there, from a desk space surrounded by acoustic screens to actual rooms that block out as much sound as possible, so no matter what works best, you have options. You can evaluate how much noise there is, who can benefit from them and which pod to choose.
Soundproof Machinery And Technology
Machines can add noise, too. Whether it’s the computers are each desk or something larger used sporadically. While not all noise can be controlled, there are ways you can help reduce the sounds. Covers with soundproof materials can dampen any noise your technology makes, but you need to ensure there’s suitable ventilation to prevent overheating.
While one machine might not make a big difference, suddenly reducing the noise of a dozen or more can be noticeable. As a part of this, make sure any machines are regularly maintained and cleaned, so that there’s less dust and buildup to generate noise from the inside of whatever you may be using in the office.
Get More Plants
This might surprise you, but plants are a great addition to any open plan office. Not only do they brighten up the office, but they add more oxygen and a bit of nature to what can be a bland or oppressive area.
One extra quality they have, however, is noise absorption. Using plants, along with other sound absorption devices, you can severely reduce the amount of noise travelling through the office. Combined with their other benefits, it’s a no-brainer to make sure you have plenty of plant life around the office. They require some extra care, but this can also help the mental wellbeing of your employees at the same time.
Learn More On How To Deal With Noise In An Open Place Office
There are plenty of ways to reduce noise in an open plan office, but some work better than others depending on the type of business you operate, the employees and culture you’ve fostered and the office space you use. A silent office isn’t always the best option, so a decision on how much noise you’re happy with, and what kind of noise, should be made first.
Not all of the ideas above will be suitable, but there are also many more that you can consider. If you’d like to know more about noise reduction in your office, or what you can do in your next commercial property to make sure the atmosphere is great from the start, get in touch with our team.