I have some news that many of you may not like: The Open Office is here to stay.
Due to the high cost of real estate and the desire for companies to be more transparent and collaborative, the future of the office will feature The Open Office floor-plan.
The number one issue that most people have in the Open Office is noise.
Obviously you can spend thousands on acoustic tiles and sound proofing but here’s some easier and more budget friendly ways to mitigate noise in the workplace.
While the trend these days is polished cement floors, exposed brick and glass-walled conference rooms, they make the workplace an echo chamber. By adding some carpeting you can help mitigate some of the echo in the space.
Focus on covering the floor under workstations and meeting areas - the places that people talk the most.
Rugs and carpeting can be expensive, especially when you have large areas to cover. My favorite vendor is FLOR carpet tiles. FLOR makes 19.7in x 19.7in (50cm x 50cm) tiles in a multitude of styles and colors that you can mix and match. The squares are easy to install, remove or swap out if you have a stain. And if you move spaces, you can rearrange them to a different shape to fit that floorplan.
Please note, I’m not getting paid to say this, I just really like this product. #designgeek
Plants do a great job of absorbing sound in the space, they can also create privacy and help to improve air quality in the office. I like to add a planter box or row of large potted plants next to noisy teams *ahem, sales team, ahem* to absorb the sound. By putting up a visual divider, even one that isn't solid, people notice the noise and activity on other side much less.
I recommend hiring a plant company to furnish all the plants and take care of watering and maintenance. It’s a lot more scalable to have a company deal with all the plants, rather than have you or another a team member take time out of their day to take care of them - even if you have a green thumb.
Lounge furniture or soft-goods are a huge help with acoustics - the cushioning and padding of sofas and armchairs helps to absorb noise and echo in a space.
I recommend interspersing lounges between large groupings of desks. By breaking-up desk groupings, you’ll cut down on noise in the space and allow for different “levels” of work. Some people, especially Millennials, like to have a variety of types of workspace: personal desks to do focused work, lounges to check emails, cafe style seating areas to do collaborative work.
Placing lounges throughout the office also gives you team huddle space and additional casual meeting areas that can give some relief for always-in-demand meeting rooms.
You may not realize this but HVAC systems serve two purposes in a well designed office. Not only do they heat and cool the space but they provide white background noise. This helps to cover up small noises in the space - the clicking and clacking of keyboards, the rustle of movement, someone talking across the office.
It also helps to create a “buzz” in the office. Maybe you’ve walked into a completely silent before - any little noise stands out and draws attention, it’s uncomfortable. In contrast, if you’ve been in a office that has a little bit of a buzz, it’s magnetic, you feel like something good is happening with that company. I’m not talking about the noise level of a Wall Street trading floor but enough noise and bustle that you can walk through the space or have a quiet conversation without calling everyone’s attention.
If you don’t have an HVAC system or it is quiet, I recommend getting white-noise machines. There are variety of types and styles available but you only need it to play the sound of rushing air. No need for crickets or frogs or wave sounds. The Marpac Dohm, available on Amazon, is the most basic and affordable model I use with clients. It’s also useful in conference rooms that are poorly sound insulated.
For many people the Open Office floor plan is not ideal, but by making a few adjustments you can make it manageable for everyone. By implementing one or more of these tactics, you can help to mitigate noise in your workplace which will help your team do their work and support your company.