12 Ways to Reduce Noise & Improve Acoustics in Your Office

Kayla Naab

It hasn’t always been this way. Before the open and creative offices of the modern era, offices were generally quiet, acoustically controlled, and not all that distracting. In recent decades, many offices have eradicated the cubicle in favor of an “open office” approach. The goal, to deliver a more creatively energizing and collaboration-friendly workspace, was met. 

However, new problems arose as they often do. Open offices are loud. Even closed offices can incur this problem when many people get together for a meeting or when loud work needs done in an area of the office. Noise pollution and sound overwhelm can mean big trouble for your team. 

Why Does Noise Matter at Work?

If your office is noisy, it might be causing more trouble than you realize. Here’s how...

Noise Impacts Productivity

An excess of sound can become an unwelcome distraction at best and at worst, completely punitive to productivity. What’s worse, work can become completely uncomfortable for those with conditions impacted by sound. 

Your Employees’ Needs Vary

Those who are hard of hearing may struggle to engage in quieter conversations or hear computer audio when surroundings are noisy. Similarly, those with ADHD or trouble focusing may find their day to day flow impossible when noise levels are too high. Other conditions like epilepsy, panic disorders, and PTSD can even be triggered or inflamed in places that are too loud. 

Customers and Partners Won’t Be Too Happy 

Phone calls with customers, meetings with partners or associates, and other business-first conversations could be interrupted or even made impossible if there’s too much background sound. What’s worse, call participants might mishear or misinterpret what’s said if hearing becomes difficult, causing business opportunities and projects to be affected. 

You’ve Got Neighbors

If your office space shares walls with other businesses, you may receive noise complaints if your meetings or creative sessions get too rowdy. While the responsibility to sound-proof an entire building is not yours, it’s also important to maintain positive relationships with neighbors and offer common courtesy. In fact, you might find that working on sound solutions in your own space helps you drown out some of their noise, too. 

It isn’t fair or reasonable to expect your employees to endure a noisy environment all day. However, simply requiring more silence from them isn’t sustainable either, as most teams require the permission and space to be as loud or silent as their work demands. If your office gets next-level loud and you’re hoping to curb the noise pollution without silencing your team, these solutions may help. 

How to Reduce Office Noise: Budget-Friendly Solutions

If you are looking for short-term, budget-friendly solutions to your noise issues, start here.  

Add Plants

Think about the inspiring hush of the forest. There are birds, insects, and all kinds of other creatures sounding off in the forest, but there’s a comfortable quiet all around you. Did you know that indoor plants absorb sound, too? Landscapers and interior designers use plants to curb noise in homes and businesses all the time. The best plants to use for sound management include ferns, fiddle-leaf figs, and palms

Buy Sound Absorption Tiles or Panels

You can buy panels, usually made from mineral wool and/or foam, to help soundproof your spaces. These can easily affix to walls or stand independently. Apply sound absorption panels to loud spaces to hold noise in, and to quiet spaces to keep noise at bay. Panels come in all sizes and a few shapes so that you can buy smaller tiles or pads for meeting rooms and larger options for your most open spaces.

Provide Professional-Grade Audio Equipment

If facility-based noise management isn’t budgetable or plausible, can you provide a work-perk and provide your team with better noise-canceling earbuds, headsets, and noise-buffering microphones? While this is just a salve for the larger problem, it can be effective in the interim while larger decisions are being made. 

Move Materials Around

You may not be ready to make brand new design decisions, but you can make the most of what’s already in place. Transfer more of your smooth surfaces (e.g. acrylic, plastic, glass and mirrors, smooth metal, and whiteboards) to the loud areas since those items reverberate sound. In the areas that you’d like to keep quiet and calm, add fabric. Adding fabric might look like adding an area rug, hanging tapestries or curtains, and choosing upholstered seating for those areas. These items will absorb sound and as a bonus, might really cozy up the space. 

Add Noise to Control Noise

Sometimes the best recourse is to push back. Adding ambient noise like binaural beats, nature recordings, coffee shop ambiance, or very light jazz can drown out busy office sounds in favor of smooth, unifying noise throughout the space. This may still distract some employees and it may be best to talk to your team and profile what kind of atmosphere each of them prefers to work in and why. 

Ways to Reduce Office Noise: Intermediate Solutions

If you’re in the position to put a little budget and a little effort behind your acoustic project, but not ready to overhaul the whole office, try these: 

Create Loud Zones and Quiet Zones

You may not be able to add or remove walls, but you might be able to redistribute what’s already there into a better acoustic flow. Consider ways to zone your office and set up separate areas for loud and chaotic energy, light collaboration and chatter, and deep focus. if your meeting space is right in the center of the office, move it to a corner and add a few of the sound absorption panels we discussed earlier. If your employees often chat idly at each other’s desks, distracting neighboring workers, consider adding a common meeting area somewhere else and encouraging conversation migration. 

Add Movable Walls

In lieu of installing brand new walls in your “open” office space, add movable walls. These wall panels, usually 6 to 10 feet high, often come on wheels or sliding discs that allow them to be moved easily by someone of average strength. They can be purchased pre-padded and upholstered like the sound absorption panels you can buy independently and they work to enclose spaces temporarily, separate teams, and generally provide more structure for the sound and movement in your space. 

Select the Best Furnishings for Office Noise Control 

You may be in the market to trade out some of your office chairs, desks, or other long-standing office furniture. If you do, there’s a bevy of options for sound-proofed desks, sound-absorbing chairs and benches, and much more. 

Consider Movable Pods or Booths for Sound-Proofing

Like the movable walls, you can purchase entire pods or booths that act as moving offices. Some of these pods are no larger than a phone booth (remember those?) and they function that way -- providing a silent refuge for someone hoping to take a call. Other pods imitate much larger conference rooms and can fit more people to serve the same purpose. You might use pods to keep loud noises in the pod or provide a quiet space to escape the noise going on everywhere else. 

Long-Term Office Acoustics Solutions

If you’re ready to upgrade your office acoustics more permanently, we’ve got ideas: 

Install Baffles in Your Ceilings

Like the sound absorption panels that are easy to install down below, baffles are installed as floating panels in your ceiling. Noise travels upward to be mitigated by these absorption panels without them taking precious space where you walk and work. These might cost more and be more intensive to install, but they’re a great long-term option for low-impact noise control.

Consider Sound-Sensitive Flooring

Like the ceiling, the floor can either absorb or reverberate sound in an office. Carpet is a great way to absorb sound but most people don’t put carpet in their offices. By choosing different textiles, however, like bamboo or rubber, you can make a tremendous difference to the acoustics in your space. If you’re stuck on laminate flooring or tile, it might be wise to install absorption padding underneath the floor. 

Move to a Building with Better Acoustics 

It’s a less ideal option, but for some teams, a new office might be in order. If you find that the time or financial cost of these acoustic improvements is too much, you might save by migrating spaces when your lease is up. Unfortunately, moving and resituating can be costly, too. It’s smart to consider what your long-term plans will look like and adjust accordingly. 

Get Professional Acoustic Help 

If you’re looking to make intermediate or long-term changes in your office to facilitate better acoustics, seek help. Professionals can help you trade out furniture and flooring, install baffles and sound absorption panels, and even reshape your existing space into something more acoustically inclined. By hiring help, you might even be able to get some projects done over a weekend and reintroduce your team to a softer, quieter workplace by Monday.

Looking for a way to manage your workplace more efficiently? Check out what Eden’s Workplace Management Platform can do for your office.

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