Acoustics in the Office

Designing a workplace is an opportunity to create inspiring spaces that will encourage teams to work well.  Of the 5 main senses that we have, we typically look at design that is geared toward sight, touch, and sound.

The average human body has an information transmission rate of over 11 million bits per second when combining all sensory systems together; eyes, skin, ears, smell, taste.  While our brains can typically only process about 40 bits of these sensories per second, everyone takes in the information a little differently.

For people who are more auditory in how they perceive the world around them, the modern day office can be a challenging space to work.  The open-office plans that have been brought about with the desire to build collaborative environments and encourage communication have brought many benefits but also presented unique challenges. 

Too Quiet

Loud and noisy offices can result in employee absence, higher staff turnover, and low productivity.  However, not all noise is bad or unwanted noise.  If a workspace is too quiet it can be unsettling and distracting as well.  So when considering sound in an environment the type of work must be considered.

Good acoustic design can actually help enhance the communication between team members.  Adding materials to a space where it can help absorb and reduce the extra “unwanted noise”, and aid focus on complicated tasks.  

The goal is to create a variety of spaces where the users are able to work and talk without needing to raise their voices to be heard, or whisper quietly for discretion.

Making Productivity Happen

By using different types of material within the workplace you can help create space that promotes productivity and healthy communication.  Typical office furniture in open office spaces do little to absorb sound, but intentionally adding materials can help minimise the noise.

You could consider items such as…

  • Raised flooring, carpeting, or flooring types that are made from natural materials such as vinyl or linoleum
  • Adding soft furnishings and materials to deflect sound
  • Acoustic ceiling furnishings or wall treatments
  • Partitions (stationary or mobile) incorporating acoustic material


Open exposed areas can have the sound dampened by using physical barriers.  Desk panels or walls made with acoustic friendly materials can have a large impact on the sound quality of that space.  There are a wide variety of options available in the office furniture industry to choose from; acoustic engineered products are a great option where sound is a significant concern, however even smoother surfaces can help reduce direct sound to the user.

All Sound Isn’t Bad

When designing for sound, it is important to remember that all sound isn’t bad; collaboration and teams can inspire creativity. While creating spaces that are acoustically healthy zones, leaving some spaces where noise is encouraged is important as well.  Considering areas of space to meet, (boardrooms, meeting zones) that encourage people to congregate, speak out and be heard by the members of the team is important in designing open offices.

A Closing Thought…

Taking the extra time to consider a balanced approach for all the senses in an office design can pay off in a big way. Comfortable environments for all forms of work that suit all types of workers will create peaceful spaces that promote growth for the team.