Clicking keyboards, humming equipment, constant chatter, and cell phone pings are all normal noises in an office, but they can be a huge source of disruption and distraction for workers. A recent survey by the Harvard Business Review revealed that noise distractions bothered more than a third of employees surveyed, impacting their ability to concentrate. Not only can noise cause frustration and anxiety for workers, but it also intrudes upon their productivity and privacy. Another study by the University of Sydney found that 50 percent of workers in open offices and 60 percent working in cubicles were dissatisfied with their lack of privacy. And research shows that even the most minor distractions can cause workers to lose focus for up to 20 minutes.
If your office has an open plan (as most do), noise is impossible to avoid. While open offices are designed to encourage collaboration and conversation, many have highly reflective and reverberant surfaces, such as hard floors, ceilings, and desks, that amplify sound—and the lack of walls and barriers in these spaces only add to the cacophony. Acoustics in office design is often overlooked, but it’s just as important as aesthetics. Here are some must-have elements for improving office acoustics:
These foam pads break up and absorb sound waves, muting them and preventing echos. They can be installed in drywall or in ceiling boards. These panels come in all different kinds of patterns, prints, and colors and can be used to personalize or enhance the visual appeal of a space as well as improve acoustics. Brands like MUTO by Soelbergi are made with 100 percent PET felt, which is recyclable and great at diffusing sound and boosting concentration.
Incorporate upholstered chairs, benches, cushions, rugs, and sofas into your office design — soft, padded materials, especially those that combine wood and textiles, naturally absorb sound. Canvas art, material pin boards, and curtains can also help. Look for furniture such as shield-back or high-back sofas and chairs that absorb sound and provide a sense of privacy. You can even find acoustic lights and felt lamps through brands like Unika Vaev that reduce sound reverberation.
Dividers block and soften sound in large, open spaces and provide a simple, cost-effective way to separate workplace teams or create semi-private workspaces. They keep conversations private and prevent workers from having to talk over each other or speak louder to be heard. You can find dividers in all kinds of shapes, sizes, styles, and iterations. Brands like Loftwall offer an extensive menu of options that can be easily customized. Unika Vaev even makes decorative hanging screens that can be suspended from a wall or ceiling. For a more open environment, use acoustic desk dividers or freestanding pods to minimize noise and distractions.
In addition to their therapeutic benefits, plants are a natural sound absorber. Add some greenery to your office to improve acoustics or incorporate a water feature to muffle sound. Swedish interior designer Nordgröna produces a line of acoustic Convex panels made from naturally grown, hand-picked Scandinavian reindeer moss—a highly porous structure that absorbs sound across a wide frequency range. Soft to the touch, the moss regulates its own humidity year-round, requiring no watering, trimming, or sunlight, and is easy to mount on the wall. Quiet Earth Moss also makes lightweight, easy-to-install green moss walls that dampen and absorb sound. The moss walls are preserved with natural oils and dye and mounted with a polyester and recycled PET fiber acoustic backing. They require no watering or natural light and are great for improving aesthetics and acoustics in high-traffic spaces.