The open office revolution has changed the way we work, with many benefits to both staff and management. An agile, open environment promotes collaboration, enhances creativity, allows for varied working styles, and creates a sense of community among staff.
Open plan workspaces are also financially beneficial. As Lorne Somerville from Barfoot and Thompson commercial leasing explains, “the more open space you are able to use, the lower the per person sq/m overall, and therefore potentially lower the cost of the lease.”
But, like all revolutions, the path to success isn’t all smooth sailing. Many workers find open-plan, agile, and activity-based workplaces noisy and distracting. All the loud phone calls, noisy office equipment, and cross-desk chat can cause decreased productivity, compromised concentration, and even serious mental health and wellbeing issues. How can you solve this problem, especially if you have a large team?
Here at SmartSpace we have more than a few noise-reduction tricks and options up our sleeves.
1. Fight fire with fire
This may sound counterproductive, but one of the simplest ways to combat noise is with other noise. Office din can be masked and muffled with sound such as white noise, whale song, music, or the sounds of nature.
- Music may be better suited to personal headphones – or, even better, noise cancelling headphones – as tastes and tolerances obviously vary greatly. But if you’re lucky enough to have mutual music tastes across the office, or perhaps the IT guy moonlights as a DJ, communal music can be great for creativity and social engagement.
- White noise is available through various music streaming applications. It’s an even combination of all frequencies that masks mid to loud noises, aiding concentration. White noise is so effective it is often used to calm infants. If the noises in your office are just light, conversational noises, “pink noise” may be more suitable, or if the noise is low and rumbling, “brown noise” might be your best bet.
- If you want to get really crafty with your cacophony, try using the sounds of nature – in particular, ocean sounds. Evidence is emerging that sounds of nature – even when played in not-so-natural-environments – not only mask noise but also have mental health benefits. These sounds may reduce anxiety and depression, and bring a general sense of calm and perspective. Many digital platforms have natural soundtracks, including meditation apps such as Insight Timer.
2. Use walls and screens
Walls and screens can dramatically reduce sound by providing what’s known as an acoustic shadow. The screen or wall blocks sound waves in the same way an umbrella blocks the light. The size and proximity of the screen determines the amount of sound proofing: a wide and tall screen placed close to the source of the sound will provide better shelter than a smaller or more distant structure.
At SmartSpace we have several options to suit your office’s needs and visual preferences.
Dynamic walls and screens
- Our Agile Screen is easily relocatable depending on your needs. One side is covered in customisable acoustic panels that help to absorb sound, and the other side doubles as an easy-to-clean white board.
- System 35 is a fully customisable range of desk screens, made to measure and finished in your colour choice of sound-absorbing material. The screens can be desk-suspended or low-suspended, to-the-floor, mid-way or “void leg”, and can even include accessory rails.
- System 55 is another completely customisable screen, ducted for power and data. Screens are tailor-made to any height, width, and colour.
- Our Mobile Divider can be used to create new spaces and zones or contain noisy office machinery (or people). Excellent for creating an impromptu private meeting space, the Mobile Divider has optional wheels that make it easy to glide the screen into place.
Feature walls and screens
- Plants are visually pleasing and help to clean the air. They are also surprisingly effective at blocking noise. Our agile and static plant walls accommodate most plant shapes and sizes, and the cross-hatched wiring provides support for climbers (the plants, not disgruntled staff).
- The customisable Blade Wall offers elegance as well as protection from unwanted noise. It comes in a range of finishes including the ever-popular beech wood. The slats are like a vertical blind, giving you the freedom to choose just how much protection you want.
Acoustic absorbing walls
If you’d rather work with the walls you’ve got, wall panels are an effective way to provide acoustic absorption. Wall panelling can match colour schemes, double up as a pin board, or even look like a work of art – the only limit is your imagination.
3. Designate zones
While creating a zone that can be changed and moved at will with dynamic screens and walls is incredibly handy, it’s good to also have some more permanent areas for both noise and silence.
If your office is open-plan, you can create different designated spaces with fixed walls or more permanent furniture. If you are struggling to rework your floor plan, get in touch with us to see how you can best use the space you have.
Our Apus Media Booth is one more permanent solution for private meetings or team projects. It keeps external noise out and internal noise in – perfect for private conversations or if your project team tends to get a little excited.
Another option is our Framery O Booth: a simple, stylish, and functional pod that provides excellent noise protection as well as privacy for sensitive calls and/or video conferences.
It’s important to ensure all staff know which areas are specified quiet zones. If a particular quiet zone is especially for solo tasks, Focus Booths are an easy way to keep the peace. These are also a great option if you have “aggressive typers” in the team.
4. Use smart furniture
While it would be great to have an ottoman that doubles as a right-hand-man, this isn’t the kind of smart furniture we’re referring to. Our smart furniture might be almost as useful, though: placed strategically, it can block and absorb noise and allow for increased concentration.Using furniture can be an inexpensive way to cut sound down in an open-plan, agile, or traditional workspace, as it may require simply moving around what you already have. Many of our clients have had their concerns resolved simply with a properly considered floor plan where we complimented existing furniture with our SmartSpace range.
One effective sound-absorbing option is Pineapple, our uber-comfortable curved seating range. It can be used as a single unit or placed together to form a rotund sanctuary. It’s even more effective when customised with a high back.
Another smart option is our Miss Pak chair with built in acoustic panels to contain sound. Miss Pak has fabric-covered seating, which makes for excellent sound absorption, and a high back to further block out noise. She is ideal for one-on-one chats and phone calls.
Providing a comfortable, concentration-friendly environment is essential to keeping your staff happy, healthy, and productive. It’s essential for the success of your business. If you need help implementing any of these noise-cancelling options, would like more ideas, or are struggling to make your open-plan office work, call us for help. We are happy to play with any ideas you have, and have options for budgets both big and small.