How To Improve Acoustics In An Office?

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The incessant ringing phones, the chatter of coworkers on sales calls, the whirring of the copy machine down the hall. These mundane office sounds make it difficult to hear yourself think.

Excessive noise in the workplace is more than just an annoyance – it substantially reduces productivity, focus, satisfaction, and wellbeing over time.

Companies that optimize their office acoustics will reap significant rewards in performance.

Let’s dive in and explore the common causes of distracting office sounds and acoustic strategies any company can implement.

With some simple fixes, any workplace can start transforming their audible atmosphere.

What Are The Main Causes Of Noise In Offices That Hurt Productivity?

Employees talking on phones, walking, and using office equipment like printers in an open floor plan office. Sound waves emanate from these noise sources, bouncing off hard surfaces and spreading throughout the workplace.

Conversations happening in person or on the phone are very common sources of distracting noise in offices.

The sounds of various office equipment like printers, copiers, fax machines, and laminators can contribute to background noise as they are used throughout the day.

Foot traffic from people walking around the office, going to meetings, or visiting coworkers also adds audible sounds from footsteps and opening/closing doors.

Noises from moving furniture, shuffling papers, opening filing cabinets, and other mundane daily activities all contribute to the office soundscape.

Poor office layouts that lack sufficient physical divisions between spaces often allow these noises to carry and spread throughout the workplace.

For example, an open floor plan with low or no cubicle walls permits conversations and phone calls to be heard across the office.

Hard, reflective surfaces like tile floors, drywall, and glass allow sounds to reverberate rather than being absorbed.

Noise infiltration from external sources like traffic, construction, or loud music can also be issues for offices lacking adequate acoustic insulation.

Sounds from other floors and rooms in the building can likewise permeate into the office through ceilings and thin walls.

How Office Noise Reduces Productivity And Wellbeing Of Employee?

Office workers seated at desks appearing distracted and frustrated. Visible sound waves emanate from phones, conversations, and office equipment around them. The people are covering ears, gazing off, and expressions show annoyance.

Distraction and inability to focus or get into a state of flow are major consequences of excessive office noise problems.

Ongoing noise makes it very difficult for employees to be fully engaged in mentally demanding tasks requiring concentration like writing, analysis, programming, or accounting work.

The disruptions force workers to repeatedly break focus and transition between tasks rather than delving deeply into any one task.

This context switching requires significant time and effort to re-orient attention that reduces overall productivity.

1. Increased Fatigue and Burnout

Constant noise in a workplace can also contribute to employee burnout, cognitive overload, fatigue, and increased stress over time. Humans are not wired to handle high noise levels for extended periods.

With no chance to rest our auditory systems, background noise in offices places a constant demand on our brains to process the input.

Over days, weeks, and months, this can degrade mental performance, memory, motivation, and energy levels.

2. Negative Impacts on Communication

Collaborative teamwork and communication also suffers in noisy environments.

Employees struggle to have discussions, meetings, or phone calls when forced to raise their voices to be heard over background noise.

Miscommunication can occur if conversations are drowned out at key moments. Some employees may withdraw from collaborative interactions entirely due to noise frustration and disruption.

3. Productivity Declines

Research studies have empirically shown that office noise reduces productivity, with open floor plans being particularly problematic.

Statistics indicate noise can impair performance on cognitive tasks by up to 66%.

Memory and comprehension declines substantially with exposure to noise according to multiple studies. Overall, excess noise has a very real detrimental impact on office work quality, communication, satisfaction, and burnout.

How To Improve Acoustics In Office

Office interior with acoustic paneling on walls, screens dividing workspaces, tiled ceilings, and area rugs on the floor. Employees seated at desks focused on work.

Excessive ambient noise in offices reduces employees’ ability to focus, collaborate effectively, avoid fatigue, and ultimately complete quality work.

Poor office acoustics therefore tangibly lowers organizational productivity, performance, and satisfaction over time.

Addressing core contributors through specialized acoustic solutions tailored to a workplace delivers quantifiable returns by enhancing working conditions.

This allows talent to fully leverage cognitive capacities rather than draining mental resources tuning out auditory disruptions.

The following comprehensive guide outlines practical strategies to improve office environments through reducing ambient noise and optimizing for sound dynamics.

1. Soundproof The Office

Beyond altering materials within a space, organizations can also consider comprehensive soundproofing solutions to prevent external noise infiltrating into offices altogether.

Specialized commercial window and wall systems block external noise from traffic, construction, machinery, and other urban ambience.

Likewise, enhancing insulation, sealing all gaps, floating floors above base building structures, and other construction techniques better contain sounds occurring inside offices as well.

The goal of soundproofing is achieving exceptionally low ambient noise levels through blocking as much noise ingress or egress as possible.

While expensive, for organizations where absolute silence and confidentiality are essential like medical facilities, legal firms, call centers and more, the investment pays dividends in quality conditions.

Employees operating in soundproofed environments avoid all auditory distraction achieving optimal comfort and productivity.

2. Install Sound-Absorbing Materials

Installing sound-absorbing materials is another excellent acoustic solution for offices. Materials like acoustic wall and ceiling panels made of soundproof foam absorb noise rather than reflecting it.

This minimizes echoes and reverberation of sounds that contribute to noisy office environments.

Acoustic panels and foam tiles can be installed on walls, ceilings, along floor paths, and on cubicle partitions to absorb stray conversations and chatter.

High density foam tiles work especially well when installed on cubicle walls to prevent conversations and phone calls from carrying.

Likewise, installing thick rugs in workspaces and hallways helps absorb noise from foot traffic.

By covering hard, reflective surfaces with these sound-absorbing materials organizations can dampen ambient noise. This reduces employees’ cognitive load from excessive noise and enables greater focus.

3. Add Physical Acoustic Barriers

Installing acoustic dividers is an effective way to block direct noise transmission between adjacent workspaces without needing full construction overhaul.

These freestanding partitions establish boundaries that contain sounds to specific areas rather than allowing voices, equipment noises or other distracting sounds to drift freely across open office spaces.

Acoustic dividiers are constructed using sound damping materials within frames topped with sound-absorbing foam or fabric.

Quality options block up to 90% of noise ingress even without reaching ceilings. This allows the barriers to be repositioned flexibly as needs change without alterations to floors or overhead infrastructure.

Dividers placed strategically between desks, workstations and common spaces let employees maintain focus without nearby conversations or phone meetings invading their concentration.

The sound containment also enables private discussions or phone calls without voice carry disturbing entire open plan rooms when proper acoustic etiquette fails.

Unlike glass partitions which reflect noise, well-constructed acoustic dividers muffle and absorb sounds striking the surface limiting reverberation.

This reduces ambient speech noise and prevents neighboring meetings from being intelligible. Employees avoid constantly tuning into nearby dialogues simply due to excessive volume and clarity.

For organizations unwilling or unable to construct floor to ceiling walls dividing entire spaces, modular acoustic dividers deliver similar sound isolation benefits without major renovations.

Easy to integrate alongside existing furniture and infrastructure, the dividers provide affordable noise control improving workplace focus.

4. Use Sound Masking Systems

Adding white noise or sound masking systems is an effective strategy to improve office acoustics.

These systems produce ambient background noise designed to cover up irregular office sounds that can be distracting.

The soothing, consistent white noise provided by sound masking systems helps to mask conversations, footsteps, ringing phones, and other random sounds.

This makes it easier for employees to focus without disruptive noises vying for their attention.

Sound masking systems are relatively simple to install and provide a reliable solution to cover fluctuating office background noise.

Employers looking to optimize office acoustics would do well to consider adding white noise or sound masking systems to keep ambient noise consistent.

This simple fix helps employees stay focused and productive by covering the everyday office sounds that would otherwise prove distracting.

5. Convert Wood Cardboard Into Acoustic Diffusers

An affordable way to achieve effective sound diffusion without buying commercial products is to convert existing materials into customized perforated acoustic panels.

Diffusers work by scattering distinct noises into indistinct, less disruptive background murmurs using irregular physical surfaces.

Panels made by perforating and patterned holes into wooden cardboard, plastic laminates or thick acoustic blankets create budget-friendly diffusers.

Small round holes, long narrow slots and laser cut patterns all break up soundwaves reflecting off the material.

This scatters noises coming from specific directions into blended reveberations spread multidirectionally throughout the room. Instead of hearing a loud laugh or shout directly, it becomes part of the ambient texture.

Strategically mounting these perforated panels above workstations, on dividing walls between desks and above locations like cafeterias help homogenize distinct noises.

Conversations blend into background atmosphere rather than clearly wafting throughout open spaces. Users must be close to hear specifics diminishing distraction distance.

The perforated panels are easy to customize to work culture fitting company colors and patterns.

Panels above team desks can even display logos triggering unity and purpose when catching glimpses between tasks.

Getting creative repurposing materials into perforated diffusers provides affordable ambient sound control improving focus.

The customization and effectiveness outperforms commercial products with minimal investment expanding acoustic options.

6. Splitting Office Areas Into Different Zones

The specific acoustic solutions that will be most effective differ based on office layout. Open floor plans allow noise to travel readily between workspaces, making them inherently more prone to cross-talk issues.

As such, open offices require extensive acoustic treatment and careful planning to reduce excessive noise.

Thoughtful workspace layouts should distance loud areas like kitchens and conference rooms far from focused work areas.

Within large open areas, dividing walls and screening should separate acoustic zones to prevent noise drifting throughout the entire floor.

Workstations and desks should also be adequately spaced to prevent neighbors from distracting each other. In contrast, private offices are easier to optimize for sound isolation.

Installing soundproof door seals and absorptive materials on walls and ceilings contained within each office prevents noise infiltration.

The same principles apply but on a room by room basis rather than tackling an entire open space.

Tailoring acoustic solutions to match an office’s layout and trouble areas ensures the best noise reduction results.

6. Combine Different Approach Together

A multifaceted approach combines sound absorption, barriers, masking, space planning and administrative controls.

Employing varied acoustic solutions better addresses the complex interplay of behaviors, materials, and structural elements that contribute to noisy offices.

Relying on just one fix like panels won’t solve concerns emerging from factors like layout or etiquette.

Instead, utilizing absorptive panels and curtains to dampen noise alongside physical barriers to block transmission supplemented with masking systems covers more bases.

Furthermore, simple solutions like area rugs, education on noise etiquette and proper device usage, and policy changes around allowed activities can also help reduce ambient volumes.

There are often many acoustic contributors to improve so office managers should assess their existing spaces and tailor layered solutions to address their unique mix of factors.

While major renovations fully optimizing layouts, materials, and devices offer the most dramatic transformation, incremental adoption of even minor acoustic solutions can gradually enhance focus and productivity.

7. Engage Acoustic Specialists

While piecemeal solutions help, to truly minimize office noise issues requires professional guidance.

Acoustic specialists have the expertise to identify current pain points, model future layouts, select appropriate materials, and provide integrated recommendations.

Specialists take decibel readings, analyze trouble zones, assess workflow needs, and take a scientific approach to acoustic optimization.

This allows them to design comprehensive noise reducing solutions tailored to the office.

From installing sound masking systems to replacing noise-leaking doors to advising better space plans, acoustic professionals offer a thorough solution.

Engaging specialists early in office renovation projects or builds allows their recommendations to inform construction plans rather than trying to retrofit solutions later.

Integrated results calibrated holistically across rooms, floors, and sites achieve the best noise reduction outcomes.

Consequently, while quick fixes have some benefit, working with professionals delivers superior workplace acoustics.


In closing, excessive background noise in workplaces tangibly hurts productivity, collaboration, wellbeing, and performance.

The costs of ignoring acoustic issues are too steep to remain complacent. Thankfully, varied solutions now exist allowing employers to actively optimize sound dynamics, not just cope.

Strategic applications of sound-absorbing materials, barriers, masking, space planning and administrative guidance address root issues rather than merely masking symptoms.

Holistic multifaceted approaches tuned to trouble zones deliver measurable returns.

While major overhauls maximally transform environments, incremental adoption of cheaper fixes also gradually helps.

Getting creative by repurposing materials into acoustic treatments saves tremendous expense. Seeking specialist guidance creates integrated plans and informed construction.

Carefully improving office acoustics reduces distraction and tunes spaces to human needs boosting comfort and output.

The remedies transform settings from cacophonous to tranquil at reasonable investments, providing abundant value to organizations and talent.

Workplaces that optimize for sound will gain loyal, focused, productive, collaborative and creative employees that feel their needs are heard.

The future favors organizations who listen in designing their structures.

Workscapes with reduced reverberation enable clearer dialogues – both literal audible conversations as well as the figurative exchange of ideas so essential for ingenuity.


Dominic is the chief editor of the Burton Acoustix blog which writes about acoustics and soundproofing to help readers with their queries and questions they might have with regard to improving any sound or noise issues that they faced in their life.