7 Tips How to Design a Quieter More Focused Workplace

Distracted at work? Can't focus?

  • Do you, your coworkers or employees complain about unwanted noise and distraction in your open office workplace?

  • Do you wear headphones to quiet the cacophony of sound around you? Do you have no place to go to make private phone calls? Or do you wear them to avoid getting interrupted?
  • Do you work from home as much as you can to avoid being in your noisy office?

Did you answer yes to any of the above? 

If you did then you likely are experiencing design shortcoming in the layout, design and detailing of your office or workplace. To help, we present here Seven Tips which, when followed, may contribute to an improved office setting or workplace with happier, more effective team members. 

Sound impossible given where you are right now? Let's take a look together at The Seven Tips and how they may help you out.

SEVEN TIPS how to design A QUIETER workplace

Some of the Tips are fairly simple, others are more complicated and have some cost. However if you abide by the maxim of you get what you pay and plan for that's a good place to start. Quality in begets quality out.

Building awareness of using best practices in space planning strategies while using reflective and sound absorptive materials is a good place to start. Remember the right solution is an integrated combination of the following Seven Tips tailored to the specific needs and requirements of your business and industry.

Tip #1. Site, building and space selection

Choices in real estate and office space

To promote the openness and interactivity found in collaborative environments such as CoWorking Space look for spaces to rent or buildings to buy with a fairly simple building shell hopefully with fairly high ceilings and access to daylight on more than one side of the space for cross-ventilation, access to views. If not on when visiting, ask to have the mechanical systems turned on to normal and walk around the space. If there are any existing meeting rooms, private offices go into them and visualize meeting with someone in those spaces, maybe carry on a conversation and see how easy it is to hear one another. Ask the building owner or property manager or realtor with you if there is sound insulation built into the wall framing between the space and other tenant spaces, or common areas like shared corridors, stairways, elevators and restrooms?

Also ask whether the walls go up to merely the suspended acoustical ceiling tile or all the way up to the floor deck or roof deck above? While it's less flexible and more costly for them to build all the way up to the roof or floor above, it's a surefire way to increase privacy and confidentiality in your spaces. And when building out your new space ask if sound insulation is included in wall construction as well as if some walls can go up to the floor or roof above as part of your lease arrangement.

Ask as well, what kind of wall and ceiling surfaces do you have to work with? Is all just painted drywall and glass, or a mix of painted drywall, glass, wood, brick or other materials? The more varied the materials the more chance for increased sound absorption and redirection due to changes in material softness, surfaces and so on. This variety improves acoustical quality. Then, what kind of floor is there and do you think you will replace it or upgrade it? If it's a polished or stained concrete floor or wood floor without proper construction, it will look great but used in a room with many people working sound will reflect more easily than if there is carpeting or modular carpet tile flooring which help absorb sound, rather than reflect it. Be careful about what you're signing up for. There may be unintended consequences of your early site selection decisions.

Tip #2 -put your office layout to work: 

It's time to think differently about laying out your offices and your space planning. If you take acoustics under consideration along with other design factors. Plan for a gradation of open to closed, more private to boisterous work areas. Focus on the social and individual scales for your space design.

You and your team won't regret it!

Final wall and furniture plan - Vermont League of Cities and Towns

Final wall and furniture plan - Vermont League of Cities and Towns

 

Work with your architect or interior designer to create a floor plan with a variety of larger to small closed walled work areas within your open work areas. This can integrate both the lively collaborative open areas and "away" or "quiet" spaces into your office design. Think designing open work areas with oases of meeting spaces, office and informal lounge areas interspersed or on the perimeters. When doing so so you can build spaces suitable for small 2-3 person meetings, larger team meetings rooms for 5-12 and smaller highly focused heads down quiet spaces.

Maximize your long time investment by installing sound insulation batts in the wall framing and run the walls all the way up to the underside of the floor or roof deck with foam insulation at the joint to limit sound transmission between spaces. Or use movable architectural walls with sound insulation in them. To create a sense of inclusiveness between nearby by open work spaces install large glass sidelights next to doors into these rooms as well as consider transom windows to allow borrowed daylight in and reduce lighting usage. Pay attention to the glass thickness and whether it is double glazed to limit sound movement. 

Locate quieter work neighborhoods and users away from lively areas such as kitchen / work cafe's, lively common spaces like bathrooms if there are specialized high focus needs. Locate more lively interactive work uses and activities nearer other active uses. Cultivate workplace protocols around desired ways for your work community to use various workspaces and behavior expectations for noise. Create and sustain the behavioral conversation as a foundation of fostering an inspirational work culture. There's a balance between collaboration, privacy and innovation minded work activities only you can find together.

Be aware of the differing work styles, needs and personalities of the various generations at work and their temperament, whether extroverted or introverted. The most brilliant space layout can be short-circuited by not paying ongoing attention to the needs of your people. Pay close and repeated attention and you'll be on your way to successful leveraging of the physical office resources you provide your people.

Develop together shared workplace protocols and etiquette. To reinforce all of the space layout and planning work, material and finish selection it's critical to develop a set of shared behavior expectations when working together, especially in hybrid open office work settings. They can range from agreeing about appropriate voice levels, whether food with odors are permitted at workstations, levels of clean desk policies and clutter, shared light levels, speakerphone calls, using signage at the workstation stating do not disturb, headphone usage, texting or emailing during meetings and more.  

The important thing is to continuously cultivate between managers, teams and across the company shared expectations without being too cumbersome or employee manual driven.

Tip #3 - Vary ceiling heights and wall surface angles:

In addition, you can further control unwanted echoes and noise communication by varying the reflective or hard surfaces of drywall partitions, suspended ceiling elements, wall panels. Your designer can subtly design these moves into your space without incurring significant added construction cost. Adding this strategy to the design palette also can enhance your space's uniqueness as compared to more standard tenant-fitup approaches.

Tip #4 - Avoid placing of curved surfaces with centers in key spaces:

If you want concave curved surfaces as part of the interior architecture locate the center of the arc or curve element outside of the space. Doing this will ensure your space will not echo in these curving or rounded areas. If you do, you'll be sure to hear funny echoes and weird distracting vibrations. Echoing spaces are not great to work in. That's why round or cylindrical interior spaces while attractive aren't necessarily great acoustically without attending to locating their center points outside of the space.

Tip #5- Ceiling treatments, sound clouds, wall panels:

Suspended 4'x4' Sound Clouds over the American Meadows Work Cafe. 

Suspended 4'x4' Sound Clouds over the American Meadows Work Cafe. 

Another strategy is installing acoustical ceiling treatments like hanging sound clouds over work areas or sound deadening walls panels as well. A simple version of this is installing higher performance ceiling tile from companies such as CertainTeedArmstrong and USG to name a few. You can use 2x2 or 2x4 or more unique tiles encased in decorative metal trim creating distinct "visual islands" and focal points within a large open spaces. Combined the sound deadening qualities of tiles with attractive linear pendant up and down lighting zones and you can create attractive open work areas.

For wall panels you can also install Tectum or Certainteed Ecophon other similar another sound absorbing product directly to ceilings or the underside of floor pans or on walls. If sustainability concerns such as recycled content, sourcing and indoor air quality are strongly desired work with your architect or interior designer to select material choices which provide acoustical performance while balancing these concerns. Wall-hangings such as quilts can serve as focal points visually but also provide acoustical relief in targeted areas.

In general for either material ask to examine the light reflectance of the materials and ask about the light reflectance value. The higher the number value daylight and artificial lighting will reflect more in your space helping lower energy bills while contributing to worker well being. This helps brighten up the overall space as well.

Tip #6 - floor coverings selections:

If you have highly reflective floor surfaces such as concrete, wood floors or floor tiles consider installing carpet squares or area rugs in open office / common work areas. There are a number of manufacturer's such as Interface FlorMannington, Shaw Contract GroupTandus who have modular solutions which can help treat lively areas with floor coverings. The fibers in carpeting and carpet squares and resilient backing helping cut down sound. These same manufacturer's all offer various kinds of eco friendly lines, recycling and financing programs attractive to owners.

Modular carpet flooring with sound clouds overhead really help quiet conversations. (View of American Meadows open work area)

Modular carpet flooring with sound clouds overhead really help quiet conversations. (View of American Meadows open work area)

 

Then, if you have areas where workers will stand a great deal perhaps in a printing and document center or behind a retail kiosk or point of sale terminal, consider installing a resilient or rubberized flooring surface to decrease joint pain while adding additional acoustical absorption capabilities. Also, pay similar attention in workstation areas where increasingly workers use sit/stand or standing only desking.

Tip# 7 - Don't forget about your furniture

Take care to select furniture with some degree of acoustical performance attributes and features. Whether workstation furniture, general seating, lounge areas, cafe's or other spaces don't ignore options which have some degree of acoustical insulation, or sound deadening capabilities in panels, upholstery and so on.

Workstations with fabric and interior sound insulation contribute to more effective, quieter open work environments in conjunction with widely adopted and bought into workplace etiquette and protocol strategies.  Note also a sound masking system was installed with high performance acoustical ceiling tiles and modular carpet tiles.  (Vermont League of Cities and Towns offices) 

Workstations with fabric and interior sound insulation contribute to more effective, quieter open work environments in conjunction with widely adopted and bought into workplace etiquette and protocol strategies.  Note also a sound masking system was installed with high performance acoustical ceiling tiles and modular carpet tiles.  (Vermont League of Cities and Towns offices) 

 

A few years ago, Benching was all the rage due to the need to seat more people in less and less space and create more interactivity and collaboration. However, all this seemed to do is increase sound-canceling headphone sales and frustration. Work with your architect and interior designer to carefully balance acoustical needs along with functional and ergonomic needs in furniture and finishes selection. It's not difficult to do but just needs to be paid attention to early on in initial stages of design and with the focus maintained through the furniture specifying and ordering process.

Summing up

Your open office workplace can be a high performing quieter place helping rather than hindering getting the needed work done while contributing to long term workplace productivity and cultivating a great work culture. By carefully selecting the right office space location in the beginning, careful design and space planning as well as material selection and the details you will be on the path to long term success. Remember as mentioned earlier, the right solution for you is an integrated combination of the Seven Tips tailored to the specific needs and requirements of your business and industry.

For more about this or if you want more detailed advice or to discuss your project needs please contact us at 802-448-0056 or info@arocordisdesign.com.  Or click on the contact us button below.   (Disclaimer: The advice offered here is general in nature and not meant for adaptation. Please consult a design professional familiar with your project needs. )

(Note, this article originally appeared on LinkedIn by Stephen Frey and has since been edited and updated)