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How can we tame office noise?

We experience variety of sounds in our everyday life. The sound itself might have very positive influence on us. We can experience that while listening to the relaxing rustle of the forest or enjoying our favourite music. However, very intensive and disruptive noise do not allow us to compose our thoughts and can greatly decline our concentration and efficiency. Thus, how can we cope with the noise and minimize the risk of being distracted?

Without doubt, we are dealing with the large — scale problem. According to research, as many as 69% of people are dissatisfied with the noise level in their workplace. Before delving into the effective tools that handle disruption, let’s look around to check the acceptable level of noise in the office.

In an office like in a beehive

Imagine coming back home with plenty of fruitful ideas how to spend the rest of your day. Unfortunately, as soon as you cross your doorstep, you feel tired, irritated and you start having a headache… Do u know this scenario? We do not realize that the cause may be the excessive noise to which we have been exposed during the day, including in the office. Studies show that staying for long periods in areas with noise levels of 60–70 dB can lead to permanent hearing damage. To ensure the safety of people working in offices, standards specifying the maximum permissible sound levels have been established.

In office premises we may sometimes feel like we are in a beehive. The maximum permissible equivalent sound level is 55–65 dB, while in the conceptual work offices this is 40 dB. The noise at the level of 60 dB resembles the volume of a running vacuum cleaner. 70 dB noise is the equivalent of a ramshackle car that greatly needs its tune up.

Noise sources

The noise found in offices comes from different sources, which can be divided into four categories – three related directly to the office and one to external factors.

The first category consists of the employees themselves. In every office you can hear dozens of conversations, footsteps, doors closing, chairs being moved or other sounds coming from the common areas.

The second category is related to the building’s technical installations, such as the ventilation, air conditioning, hydraulic and heating systems and sounds generated by the elevator.

The third type of noise comes from a number of devices: computers, phones, printers, shredders and servers. Eliminating them from the office space is practically impossible; however, purchasing modern equipment and positioning the items properly in the office can overcome the intensity of the sounds they emit. 

Last but not least, noise also comes from external sources. It comes from outside the building in which the office is located, including from the street, passing vehicles, pedestrians talking and from neighboring buildings.

In search of silence

In order to increase efficiency, as well as employees’ satisfaction with their working conditions, we should seek to reduce noise in the office and manage the acoustic comfort of the people working there. Taking into consideration that there has been increase in number of sound sources and their diversity in contemporary workplaces, the main foundation to fight unbearable noise is to have a well-designed space. We should definitely put emphasize not only on visual but also on acoustic aspects of particular area. That being said, beautiful office which is not functional remains only as beautiful office. Thus, it is extremely important to create exquisite, comfortable and tailor-made space that meets the requirements and character of its employees.

As we already know the theory and requirements related to the permissible sound level, in the second part of the article, we would like to discuss and focus on solutions that will help tame the noise in your office.

Acoustic solutions

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The first way to eliminate nuisance noise is to increase the acoustic absorption of the room. This can be achieved by introducing, for example, suspended ceilings, carpets and acoustic panels. They absorb part of the acoustic energy and reduce reverberation.

We should also take care of the equipment used by the employees. If we cannot afford new devices that emit much less undesirable noise, then we should consider rubber mats and anti-vibration bases, or think about locating the devices in separate rooms.

Another way to reduce noise is to look after the condition of technical installations. Eliminating the noise caused by ventilation or hydraulic systems can significantly improve the working environment.

Spatial solutions

One of the easiest ways to reduce noise is to improve the layout of desks in the common spaces, so that the members of a team are sitting close to each other. This helps to eliminate any unnecessary walking or loud conversations. It should also be mentioned that desks need suitable partitions and panels to limit the noise produced by sound sources located close to each other.

To facilitate communication, it is a good idea to create meeting areas where people can have discussions and exchange ideas freely. If possible, we should create many small, private offices, especially for people working in decision-making posts or those responsible for creative or analytical work, requiring constant concentration.

Healing through sound

Surrounding sounds do not always create noise that leads to a drop in concentration or productivity According to research, 42% of us use makeshift solutions to eliminate distractions in the office. Putting the headphones on is one of the most popular solution which is being used by employees to zero in on their work.

In some offices, playing music from the speakers or from a radio located in a public office space is permitted. This particular solution won’t necessarily help everyone to get their job done. Listening to local radio and our favourite songs do not have to be the greatest remedy to make your writing task easier. Therefore, the best solution to cope with the noise is an individual approach. More and more people work with headphones, especially in large corporations. It is one of the easiest and fastest ways to isolate yourself from your colleagues’ conversations or the sounds of a shredder. Employers have become more tolerant of this and accept this increasingly popular way of working.

Using headphones is one of the easiest and fastest ways to isolate yourself from your colleagues’ conversations or the sounds of a shredder.

It is important to note that the kind of music we listen to has a huge impact on our concentration and efficiency at work. Of course, everyone has their own taste in music and chooses it themselves, but most research shows that the greatest productivity, creativity and concentration comes when listening to classical music, which affects spatial imagination, reasoning and logic as well as strengthening memory.

Other solutions

The modern office expects us to take a modern approach to the problem of noise and the efficient elimination of unwanted sounds. As mentioned above, there are plenty of ways which are worth taking into consideration while facing too much noise in your office. However, we did not exhaust the list. Many other solutions can be found in the report named '8 myths about acoustics', in which we refute false beliefs about sound in the office. At the same time we did our best to collect very captivating facts and numbers concerning that particular topic.

We would like to invite you to read and constantly look for new and creative solutions to cope with too much noise in your office. Moreover, there is no doubt that the fight for an office without noise is certainly “worth the candle” because calm, peaceful and joyful workplace is the cornerstone for thousands of employees spread worldwide.

Download "8 Myths About Acoustics"

Sound only seems uncontrollable. To learn more about tackling sound, read our report!


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*Gensler. (2013). U.S. Workplace Survey

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