Soundproofing and office productivity are closely linked. Loud or continuous noises are not only distracting, but also detrimental to employee health. Employers are losing money in lost time to these distractions and employee turnover because many offices were not designed with modern noise levels in mind. Small, strategic soundproofing integrated into office design can greatly affect employee happiness, health, and the business’ bottom line.
CBD is where most businesses are located, closer to public transport so employees aren’t reliant on their own cars to commute, near other interesting businesses where employees can quickly remove themselves from the office environment for lunch across the street or coffee in the next building.
Unfortunately all of these mood-lifting environmental factors bring noise with them. For example, since 1995, public transportation riders have increased by 30 percent, therefore what brings these employees to work in the CBD, both literally and figuratively, quickly becomes a drawback once their work begins. This increase means more rumbling traffic noises, dings and bells to alert of its arrival, etc.
Once inside the walls of the office, if the design doesn’t stand up to the noise outside, the joy of working in the city will quickly fade. If an employee cannot even take a sales call without disruption, the office interior design is not doing its job.
As more companies are choosing to move into existing buildings to save on money and time that would otherwise go into starting from scratch (It’s also the more sustainable route—the greenest building is the one already built.) This brings another set of challenges on top of the city noises already knocking on the door. These buildings were not designed for their purposes and must be renovated to meet workers’ needs. This often leads to an open office plan, creating even more noise issues to solve.
People may gasp at the design features of an office lobby, but once the reality of its acoustic insufficiencies set in, the admiration will quickly fade. No matter how beautiful you make a space, if people aren’t comfortable in it, they won’t stay. A truly comfortable, easy to work in environment day after day will help with not only productivity but also employee retention, which helps save money in the long run.
Perform an audit of the space to understand how noise penetrates the building. Noise can enter anywhere air does: doors, walls, ceilings, windows, or any other opening in the building. Reducing sound is about observing the source of noise, assessing the space to figure out where sound waves travel, and then bounce off or are absorbed. While you can hire an acoustic consultant, plenty of solutions can be implemented with some creative thinking on what surfaces are present and how the dynamic of the space can change with the introduction of new materials or even new structures.
There are two types of soundproofing, sound reduction and sound absorption. Sound reduction stops noise from entering the building and sound absorption stops noise from reverberating around a space. Both will need to be addressed when transforming older buildings in city centers into ideal working environments.
Isolated Soundproof Spaces: You don’t have to soundproof the entire office. Strategically find spaces to provide acoustical privacy for phone calls and meetings. Not every office has an ideal outside to step into to take phone calls and providing this personal space is important for the caller and their co-workers.
Acoustic Window Inserts: Acoustic window inserts block up to 70 percent of outside noise (sound reduction) and because they are made of acrylic they help stop reverberation inside the building (sound absorption). They press inside the window and so work with existing windows. They are hard to notice once installed because they blend into the window frame, so won’t interfere with the aesthetics of the design. They can also be used to create isolated soundproof spaces. Instead of using them on exterior windows, soundproof a conference room to ensure private meetings are actually private.
Wall & Ceiling Panels: Wall and ceiling panels help with sound absorption. Whatever outside noise comes through your walls, windows, and doors and whatever noise is generated inside your office will be reduced by these. There are so many great options these days that won’t sacrifice the aesthetic of the space.
Bring in Plants: From a living wall to a few hanging ferns, plants will help absorb noise while adding to the design. Plus, plants clean the air, are shown to help with office stress, and lead to more productivity.
White Noise: Sound masking brings calming or common and continuous noise to the background so distracting noises, like conversations, fade into it. Many employees working in open offices will download apps with noises like “Unreal Ocean” or “Spring Walk” to drown out the voices of their co-workers. Adding white noise machines to shared spaces will relieve the burden from individuals and encourage collaboration rather than isolating headphone usage.
Marry modern technology with standing structures and use strategic soundproofing to make small changes that yield big results. The integrity of design will not be affected by these changes and employee happiness and productivity will soar. If employees are comfortable in their space every day, the design is sound in all ways.