The difference between noise and sound

August 1, 2017 / Insights / min read

Communications Director

The right sounds in the office environment can help us concentrate and improve focus. Noise, on the other hand, is distracting at best and infuriating at worst.

To some of us, a completely silent office might be workplace nirvana. The problem with church-like quiet is that sound of almost any kind instantly becomes a distraction because every single sound is heard at a higher level.

The quick chat or passing hello becomes utterly irritating and concentration evaporates. Airplanes, in contrast, are very loud but the white noise that’s pumped out masks most conversations (but sadly not that screaming baby) allowing you to focus and concentrate. Or at least watch a movie in relative peace.

Acoustic paneling dampens sound so lively conversations don't bother colleagues

Acoustic paneling dampens sound so lively conversations don't bother colleagues

In today’s open plan office, the noise to sound ratio has greatly increased. In fact, it’s one of the top concerns we address with clients who are moving towards a more open plan approach.

After you’ve factored in enough private and semi-private spaces into your floorplan (and nominated tummellers for those spaces), it’s time to factor in the less sexy aspect of design: sound.

After merging to become Penguin Random House, the Canadian HQ became the first publishing powerhouse to all come together under one roof. They knew they wanted a 100% open-plan approach and that the ability to focus on detailed reading was paramount.

We installed a ceiling mounted speaker system that directs white noise down into the cubicle pods. This creates noise-cancelling cones of silence that allow colleagues to work within feet of each other while still carrying on phone calls or in person conversations.

When Aviva came to us to help them deliver their innovative new Digital Garage office, we knew they needed an office that would seamlessly help them move towards the Agile working methodology. That meant lots of teaming tables, informal gathering spots and even a completely open townhall environment.

In space planning their new office, we took a long hard look at how their space needed to function like their best unpaid employee – facilitating the right kind of work at the right place at the right time – helping to keep everyone productive.

In addition to sound masking we specified acoustic panel dividers that help dampen sound between one to two person touch-down tables and broke up the floorplan with soft furnishings that absorb sound.

Of course, thinking about how sound will affect your office can and should happen at every step of the way…including during your search for new space.

Yes, that brick and beam building with the wood floors, huge windows and high ceilings does look cool but how many times do you want to explain to clients that the lunchtime spinning class downstairs that’s disrupting your meeting will be over in 45 minutes?

With workers reporting interruptions and intrusive noise as one of the most frustrating things about their offices, it’s something you can’t afford not to consider whether you’re moving or updating your space.

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