The Problems With Acoustics in Open Plan Offices

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Open Plan Offices and Acoustics

Whether you're operating in a small business or large organisation you will no doubt encounter the problems that open plan offices create with the increased levels of noise.

Considering 70% of businesses now operate in open plan offices it’s a huge problem with research showing that 69% of employees are negatively impacted resulting in reduced concentration levels, productivity and creativity. Of those surveyed 44% felt that their employers have ignored their concerns with 16% choosing to work remotely due to issues of noise which highlights the need to improved focus pods/rooms, touchdown areas and quiet zones dedicated for employees to retreat to.


1. They decrease productivity.

Contrary to popular belief, open offices don't increase collaboration or make people more productive. An Exeter University study showed they create a 32% drop in ‘workers well being” and a 15% reduction in productivity.

2. They make employees miserable

A recent study of 10,000revealed that "95 percent said working privately was important to them, but only 41 percent said they could do so, and 31 percent had to leave the office to get work completed."

3. They create time-consuming distractions.

Office workers lose nearly 90minutes a day due to distractions associated with open-plan offices. As a result, many employees are "unmotivated, unproductive, and overly stressed," according to the study.

4. They make employees sick.­­­­

A study at Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation found that working in environments without offices "caus[es] high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover." 

5. They result in more sick days.

Not surprisingly, employees in open-plan offices take more sick days.  According to The New Yorker, companies with open-plan offices can expect employees to take a whopping 62% more sick leave.  

6. They communicate a lack of trust.

People aren't stupid. They know that behind the hip-sounding biz-blab about "collaborative work areas" lies the perennial desire of the paranoid, insecure micro-manager to peer over every worker’s shoulder at a moment's notice.

7. They create vast political turmoil.

In open-plan environments, there are always a handful of private offices for the bigwigs. Because everyone hates the open plan, the struggle over who gets a "real office" is cutthroat, creating unnecessary bad blood and wounded egos. 

8. They blunt your highly-paid brainpower.

According to one study, "senior engineers, bankers, and people working in financial services...found the open-plan environment challenging, particularly when focusing on complex tasks like analyzing figures or working on documents."

9. They cost MORE than private offices.

Here's the real kicker. As I pointed out in a recent post on LinkedIn, open plan offices are destructive to productivity they’re a huge net loss (UK estimated at £52-70 billion)  in areas where office space is pricey.  * 2013 State of the Global Workplace Report, Gallup


Solutions to the problem.

Office Behaviours and Acoustics

  • Encourage workers to speak in normal low voices
  • Phone conversations to be short or if longer relocate to an acoustic pod or room
  • Speaker phones to be prohibited whilst working at desks in open plan areas
  • Meeting room doors and acoustic pods whilst being occupied/used to have doors closed

Office Layouts

  • Ensure quiet rooms/acoustic pods are centrally located to increase usage
  • Boardrooms and conference rooms to be located away from the open plan offices to reduce disruption and noise
  • Desks to feature acoustic privacy screens which are low to ensure voices are lowered as high screens create a barrier in which noise increases
  • Ensure teams that are driven by analytical complex work is housed away from teams that use the phones a lot like sales teams etc.

Acoustic Treatments for the Office

  • Perforated ceilings with sound absorptive insulation
  • Absorptive panels
  • Directly fixed to ceilings or soffits
  • Hanging vertically as baffles or horizontally as clouds
  • Wall mounted
  • Free standing screens
  • Workstation panels
  • Absorptive treatments to building soffits where there is no suspended acoustic ceiling

 Office furniture

  • Acoustic privacy screens
  • Acoustic telephone booths
  • Acoustic meeting pods
  • Acoustic meeting rooms
  • Breakout furniture with high backs/panels






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