There’s a lot to be said for open plan offices. They’re cheaper to plan, easy to scale, and encourage collaboration. One thing they don’t provide, however, is a lot of quiet. Depending on what your employees do all day long, this could be a serious problem, reducing worker productivity and satisfaction alike.
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to improve your office acoustics — sometimes, for cheap. Here are a few of our favorite ways of coping with the office din.
1. Put the Loud Folks With Other Loud Folks
Do you have one department that needs to (or tends to) communicate in person a lot? Seat those people near each other, and far away from the workers who need to keep their heads down all day. Sounds like an obvious fix, but you’d be amazed how many organizations don’t bother to think twice before they seat the customer service representatives right next door to the creatives.
2. Make Sure You Have Enough Conference Rooms
This is another job for advanced planning. Ideally, before you move into a new, open plan office or redesign your old office to have a more open seating plan, you should take the time to map out private areas for workers to meet in. This means allocating plenty of conference rooms of all sizes — large, boardroom-style areas for team meetings, but also smaller, equally private areas for groups of two or three workers to use for impromptu discussions.
3. Provide a Place for Phone Calls
In the olden days, a lot of companies had phone booths in their lobbies or even in the office space proper. The idea was that this would enable workers to talk on the phone privately without disturbing others or having to worry about eavesdroppers. Now, companies like Facebook are bringing these back; only now, of course, workers have their own phones, and only need the booths.
4. Create White Noise
Sound-masking equipment can cover the distracting noises of a busy office with a uniform layer of white noise. This helps with loud offices, but it’s equally useful for those rare times when you could hear a pin drop, and can’t concentrate because it’s too quiet.
5. Decorate Your Office Into Silence
Small decorating choices — acoustic tiles, thick rugs instead of bare floors — can make a big difference in terms of office acoustics. The trend toward large, bare spaces with spare, contemporary decor might make offices look more modern, but it can also make them loud, echo-y places. Think carefully before signing up for that polished concrete floor.