Published on: 29 November 2023

Updated on: 05 December 2023

Read time: 5 minutes

Julie Hattersley

Design Director

Jo Jenkinson

Design Director

Walk into any open plan office, and you’ll likely be met with a hum of keyboards clicking, phones ringing, and overlapping conversations.

While vibrant and collaborative, these ambient office acoustics can also be distracting for many professionals seeking focused solo work.

In fact, research shows over 52% of employees have trouble concentrating amid office noise pollution. This daily environment of distractions and lack of privacy takes a toll, hurting productivity and even wellbeing over time.

As open floorplans become the norm, controlling acoustics is no longer an afterthought, but a critical driver of workspace satisfaction and performance. Through proper workplace acoustics planning and design, offices can curb excess noise while enabling collaboration and communication to thrive.

In this guide, we clarify the impact of acoustics in the workplace, walk through core methodologies like sound absorption, and showcase the latest in acoustic office solutions. By grasping these key principles, office managers, designers and architects can create balanced soundscapes where ambient noise enhances rather than hinders.

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What are office acoustics?

In simplest terms, office acoustics refers to how sound propagates within a workspace. This encompasses background noise from colleagues, machinery and phones as well as room dynamics like echoes and speech intelligibility during meetings.

Optimising office acoustics entails minimising disruptive ambient sounds through sound-dampening materials, like office acoustic panels, and physical barriers while promoting effective person-to-person vocal transmission. Well-tuned acoustics enable workers to concentrate amid reasonable background noise, converse without shouting, and prevent disturbances to neighbouring desks or meeting rooms.

Get the workplace acoustics right, and ambient audio can fade into a productive hum, with conversations and equipment audible but unintrusive. Get it wrong, and the acoustic environment hinders communication, causes distractions, or even hurts hearing over time.

Our acoustic vision ensures no employee suffers straining to hear meetings or distracting chatter as background noise. Through analysing sound levels and scientific acoustic principles, we sculpt calming yet vibrant audio environments facilitating innovation and wellbeing.

Julie Hattersley

Design Director

Why are office acoustics important?

For modern open floorplan offices, achieving quality acoustics is a driver of employee experience, productivity and wellbeing. Beyond the obvious disruptions to phone calls and meetings, ambient noise takes a proven toll on concentration, mental fatigue and stress levels over the workday.

And with prolonged exposure to excess noise shown to impair cognitive abilities while elevating heart rates and blood pressure, poor acoustics also multiply health risks - especially prevalent in already noisy cities. On the flip side, optimised office acoustics carries multifaceted benefits.

Enhanced focus & productivity

Research confirms offices tuned for sound see significant jumps in worker motivation and output. Whether seeking creative flow states or analytical precision, employees complete complex tasks faster with fewer errors when granted acoustic sanctuaries.

Heightened collaboration & innovation

Rather than dampening all sound, offices can promote free-flowing yet unobtrusive conversation through conscientious acoustic design and office acoustic furniture. Guiding speech audio within comfortable parameters saves teams unnecessary strain while enabling vital knowledge sharing.

Multiplied wellbeing

With noise pollution strongly tied to elevated stress hormones and anxiety, finely tuned audio environments relax bodies and minds. This manifests in heightened happiness, comfort and sense of control over immediate settings.

In short, office acoustics is no longer an auxiliary nice-to-have.

A thoughtfully tuned acoustic environment is the cornerstone of any productive office. By consciously absorbing disruptive noises while allowing collaborative murmurs to enhance focus, we craft soundscapes where ambient audio empowers rather than impedes the workday.

Jo Jenkinson

Design Director

Understanding noise levels

Noise intensity is measured in decibels (dB). Sounds under 35dB like soft music or distant chatter are unlikely to disrupt focus. But as experts suggest the ideal background level for offices is 35-40dB – around an indoor conversation – it takes planning to hit this sweet spot.

Yet, open offices can easily exceed 65dB, the level of a noisy restaurant. And with prolonged exposure to sounds above 85dB capable of permanently damaging hearing, it pays dividends to analyse and address office acoustics through design.

Beyond minimised health risks, research confirms offices with comfortable sound levels significantly boost worker satisfaction along with motivation and job performance. Considering ambient speech is the most distracting background noise, improving speech privacy also ranked among the top drivers of workplace experience in a recent survey.

Mastering office acoustic design

While a noisy workplace may seem like an inevitable tradeoff for collaborative spaces, simple acoustic design principles can balance speech clarity and privacy. Methods like sound absorption, blocking, office acoustic screens and covering surfaces help prevent echoing and reduce excessive noise near the source.

Sound absorption and reflection

Using office acoustic panels, baffles and bass traps made of sound-dampening materials remains one of the most effective ways to absorb audio rather than letting it loudly reverberate. Mounted strategically near common chatter spots like tea points and meeting rooms, these can dramatically cut echoes and ambient noise.

Complimentary options like noise-reducing carpets, curtains and upholstered office acoustic furniture also help absorb sound vibrations. Even small layout tweaks using found items like bookshelves help break up empty reflective space.

Blocking direct sound path

Blocking or insulating against direct sound waves is also critical. Higher cubicle partitions, room dividers, and office acoustic screens add protective sound buffers between desks. Separating louder departments or enclosing private focus rooms further contains noise leakage. Glass office walls can also achieve beautiful transparency while blocking hundreds of decibels when multi-paned.

Covering and masking ambient noise

Finally, office acoustic panels and furnishings using mass-loaded vinyl help cover noisy spots by dampening vibrations rather than blocking sound. And rather than trying to eliminate all background noise, sound masking systems can provide an ambient volume of white noise to obscure sudden sounds that break concentration.

The future of office acoustic solutions

While design fundamentals are essential for any office refurbishment, technology continues expanding the acoustic toolset. Smart sound-masking systems leverage sensors, algorithms and speakers to self-optimise background noise as occupancy patterns shift. Networked IoT devices help facilitate automated, personalised sound environments conducive to different cognitive needs.

AI-enabled adaptive solutions even auto-adjust subtle background noise levels to improve speech privacy as needed. Employees can thereby focus amid a consistent quiet din optimised for comfort and precision when needed.

AI also helps predict noisy disruptions and recommended interventions based on real-time monitoring. Consequently, automated acoustic solutions enable mass customisation where each employee enjoys subtly tuned audio aligned with changing tasks and habits.

Even AR/VR models help visualise planned office interior design layouts with clear acoustic metrics, allowing easy iteration of partitions and materials during design without costly physical mockups. Together, these innovations promise offices dynamically responsive to our psychological and physiological sound preferences.


For today’s open offices, achieving acoustic comfort is no longer a luxury but a basic requirement for happy, healthy and productive workplaces. As work itself grows more demanding amid digital distractions, offices should provide sanctuaries guarding focus while enabling collaboration.

By applying core acoustic design principles paired with the latest sound-dampening furnishings and adaptive sound systems, the ambient aural experience can empower rather than impede.

At the end of the day, quality work springs from tranquillity of mind – states challenged by constant audible chaos. Through balanced acoustics diminishing unwanted noise, purposeful sound can nurture creativity and flow states priming breakthrough innovations now and in the future.

Need help improving your office acoustics? Reach out to our team of experts at Office Principles. We’ll collaboratively transform your workspace vision into an inspired reality.

Meet the Authors

Julie Hattersley

Design Director

Having worked in the Design and Build industry for almost two decades, Julie has built an illustrious portfolio that reflects talent, creativity and an effortless ability to create inspiring workplaces. Taking pride in her involvement through every step of the design process, Julie is inspired by her clients and relishes dissecting a brief to get to the essence of what will provide the end users with the best experience and improve their working days.

Jo Jenkinson

Design Director

With a passion for creating exciting and innovative designs, Jo’s is the imagination behind a rich and varied portfolio of inspirational environments, spanning commercial, retail and residential markets. Experienced in architectural design and design and build, she has worked in the office fit out industry for over ten years and has led the design on a number of multi-million pound projects.

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