The Book of Acoustics

8.0 Commercial applications

8.2 Workplaces

The primary function of an office or workplace is to serve as a place where employees can both meet and collaborate, and retreat to focus and get things done. In the case of open office layouts, multiple types of acoustic environments need to be able to coexist within the same space.

Everything from chatty coworkers to noisy office appliances can serve as a source of noise and distraction in a workplace environment. Noise from traffic or neighbouring businesses can also pose a challenge.

It has been proven that noisy or disruptive workplaces often lead to diminished productivity, well-being and satisfaction among employees. In a survey of over 350,000 employees across 2,700 workplaces in 69 different countries, it was revealed that 75% of employees consider noise level as an important quality in an effective workplace. At the same time, just 30% reported satisfaction with workplace noise levels.

Taking measures to improve workplace acoustics, however, makes a big difference. In another study, when distractions were reduced, 75% of employees reported greater productivity, 57% experienced increased motivation, and 49% reported feeling happier at work.

Design strategies

  • If possible, during early stages of building design,
    add structural buffer zones between noisesensitive classrooms and areas prone to higher activity and noise levels.
  • Reduce reverberation in hallways and other adjacent rooms.
  • Add soft and sound absorbing materials to the room such as rugs or carpets, fabric curtains, cork board and ceiling and wall panels.
  • Arrange desks at an angle around the room, rather than in rows.
  • Insulate doors, windows and noisy equipment with sound blocking material.
  • Replace noisy light fixtures.
  • Add soft tips or pads to the bottom of tables and chairs.
  • Add a speech-reflecting zone with reflective ceiling tiles above the area where the teacher normally stands to make it easier for their voice to reach all corners of the classroom without strain.
Space function:

Design goal:

Focus, productivity and collaboration Reduce noise distractions and increase speech privacy between different areas of the workplace
Target reverberation time:

Maximum noise rating level:

0.5-0.9 NR 35

The Book of Acoustics

This is a handbook for architects and interior designers who want to create acoustically beautiful spaces that make people feel happier, healthier and more productive.