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How to Reduce Noise in an Office

Posted By:

Office Screens UK

Date:

22/11/2021

Reading Time:

9 Mins

How to Reduce Noise in an Office

Modern offices can be busy, noisy places, as many of them are now constructed with an ‘open-plan’ layout featuring very few internal walls, large desk banks and minimal soft furnishings. As a result, sound echoes very easily around these spaces.

But why is it important to reduce noise in an office?

A study undertaken in Hong Kong examining the link between noise and office productivity showed that ‘a strong and significant correlation was found between changes in office productivity and sound. The three most annoying noise sources, including conversation, ringing phones and machines...had a significant negative impact on all participants. The results also indicate that low-productivity participants were easily influenced by noises such as background noise, closing doors, and human activity.’ 

The study draws a direct correlation between noise and a lack of productivity in an office, suggesting therefore that the introduction of soundproofing elements in a workplace can improve concentration and therefore productivity by creating a peaceful, quiet work environment. 


What is soundproofing and how do you achieve it?

Many people assume that the term ‘soundproofing’ refers to the complete elimination of sound. However, the fact is that total soundproofing is impossible to achieve outside of a vacuum. Instead, we refer to soundproofing as the act of reducing the ability of sound waves to travel unchecked around a room, bouncing off hard surfaces and continuing to echo and spread the noise around from its initial source. Acoustic panels act as a barrier to sound waves, but their effectiveness can depend on the location and height of where you place them.

In order to work out how best to organise your acoustic products to achieve maximum soundproofing, begin by finding out where the primary points of sound reflection are in your office or workplace. Most often, office noise is emitted at head height when people are seated at their desks - this on average 975mm above floor height. Installing a 1200mm-high acoustic screen near to the average sound source offers 225mm-worth of additional protection. However, a 1800mm-high screen installed in the same location would offer 825mm more protection - that’s three times more sound absorbing and insulating properties. So you can see that, when it comes to acoustic screens and dividers, height matters as much as location. For wall panels, again, head height is a good place to start in order to absorb spoken sound. We recommend starting with 15-20% coverage.

How do acoustic soundproofing products work?

Acoustic soundproofing products work to combat the effects of sound reverberation. Reverberation is the action of sound bouncing off a hard, shiny surface. It is measured as the length of time required for sound to decay 60 decibels from its initial level.

Typically, office environments lack soft furnishings such as carpets, curtains, sofas, cushions etc. These items are incredibly helpful at preventing reverberation within a space - hence why you rarely feel like your home echoes. Sound absorbing screens and panels can replicate the effect of soft furnishings to create a quieter space, as they are designed specifically to reduce the amount that sound can bounce around a space

Think about all the different noises present in your office; colleagues chatting, telephone calls, kitchen appliances such as kettles, or office machinery such as printers and televisions. Contemporary workplaces usually produce multiple sources of distracting sounds. Sound absorption screens and acoustic wall panels can slow reverberation time by up to 70%, helping to dramatically reduce noise pollution in the workplace. 

What acoustic products are available for soundproofing an office?

To create a proper soundproofing effect in your office, you can choose from a range of different acoustic products:

  • Acoustic Desk Dividers - Acoustic desk dividers, in standard or premium finishes, help to prevent sound from traveling between desks in an open-plan office environment. The fabric overlay is backed in acoustic, sound-absorbing foam to help reduce noise and echoes.
  • Acoustic Screens - Available in either standard or premium finishes, these panels are manufactured from a strong internal core that’s covered with a pinnable acoustic layer on both sides, before being finished with a foam-backed fabric all over. Thanks to the versatility of the design, you can use these screens to display items using velcro fasteners or pins. They are available in straight, wave-shaped and desk-divider shapes, giving you different options for your office.
  • Acoustic Meeting Pods - These kits can help you divide up your office into different ‘zones’, offering private or semi-private spaces for meetings, calls or personal study. Alternatively, the s-shaped acoustic walls divide up large spaces by creating two individual ‘curves’ where you can set up a table and chairs.
  • Acoustic Wall Panels - Also known as soundproofing tiles or baffles, these flat panels are made of board, covered with a layer of insulating and soundproofing foam, and finished with a choice of coloured fabric. Designed to be fixed to walls or ceilings, our acoustic panels are available in a range of different shapes and sizes, as well as different thicknesses. 

TETRATAK™ Interlocking Acoustic Soundproofing Wall Tile Panels

TETRATAK™ Interlocking Acoustic Soundproofing Wall Tile Panels

ZAGATO™ Hexagonal Acoustic Wall Panelling

ZAGATO™ Hexagonal Acoustic Wall Panelling


How effective are acoustic products?

The effectiveness of any acoustic panels, partitions or baffles is measured using an NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) number; this is the average rating of how much sound an acoustic product can absorb. It is measured from 0 to 1 - for example, an NRC of 0 means that the product absorbs no sound, whereas an NRC of 1 means that the product absorbs all sound. The higher the NRC, the better the product is at soaking up the sound. 

Our sound absorbing wall panels, for example, have an average NRC of 0.43; our standard acoustic dividers have an average NRC of 0.22; and our premium acoustic screens have an average NRC of 0.70.

You might think these numbers seem low when a ‘perfect’ soundproofing product should have an NRC of 1, but remember, effectively ‘soundproofing’ an office isn’t about removing all traces of sound. In fact, if you ‘over soundproof’ a space you can be left with an overly quiet ‘dead zone’ of sound, which gives a slightly unpleasant sense of hush which can be equally distracting for employees.

To achieve an ideal ratio, start with a few products and build up your soundproofing layer by layer until you have achieved the desired effect.

Is soundproofing the only way to reduce noise in an office?

Acoustic soundproofing products can be incredibly helpful when it comes to reducing noise in a working environment, but they are not the only step you can take. You can:

  • Relocate noisy machines such as printers or shredders at one end of the office to minimise noise pollution
  • Arrange desk banks so staff are seated back-to-back rather than facing each other - this way the sound is always traveling away from them 
  • Keep busier teams (i.e. those more likely to be on the phone or collaborating at their desks) in a separate location
  • Introduce absorbent, plusher materials such as cushions, rugs and curtains to minimise sound bouncing off hard, reflective surfaces

For more information about any of our Acoustic Screens And Panels, please Contact Us or call our team on 01234 676767.

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