Office Designers need to put down their pencils, close their eyes and open their ears. Interior Designers and Architects typically focus on the visual appearance of the office and sound becomes an afterthought. Sound design is sound advice for designers who are looking to create workplace spaces that get the greatest return on investment for business owners.
Research shows that sound has an impact on the quality of life, health, social behaviour and productivity. Sound design done properly can have positive outcomes that business leaders want in human resource development and performance.
Office Noise affects Employee Well-Being & Performance
The office design trend has moved towards fewer private offices and more open areas. The open-office design offers more opportunity of intermingling among employees, which promotes collaboration and lowers overhead costs. Real estate costs are lower because of shared spaces and office furniture and equipment, such as workstations, copiers, meeting rooms and seating areas, are typically shared as well.
Unfortunately, the open office presents new challenges for office designers, in that the ability to close the office door for some peace and quiet is no longer a possibility, or limited to only a few people, or a few shared spaces. Without the physical sound barriers such as walls and doors, other ways of balancing the appropriate levels of sound must be considered. Outside construction, street traffic, HVAC systems, office equipment, and talking are all sounds that may be tolerable on their own. Put these sounds together, and it is most certainly distracting and annoying.
A silent office is not perfect either. If you have an office that is perfectly quiet, this may be just as much of a problem. Ears cannot be closed as easily as eyes. A sudden noise or a single voice would stand out and be heard by everyone in the room. Designers need to consider the right balance to promote an atmosphere that is conducive to the type of business, the tasks that are being done, and the preferences of the employees. Sometimes ambient noise, such as nature music or a waterfall can be used as masking background noise that is pleasing and yet not distracting. Get the right mix and you will improve productivity, accuracy, employee engagement, and the health & wellbeing of your employees.
In environments with white noise or sound masking, employees report improvements of up to 38 percent for the performance of simple tasks and 27 percent for complex tasks.
Choose the right materials, office furniture and spaces when planning your sound office design.
In office audible spaces, a place where information needs to be communicated verbally, it is important that words can be heard and easily understood by the recipient, so the right message is received. This is important when designing training rooms, conference rooms, and collaborative areas. A reverberation time  of 1.2 seconds is too high. Use acoustic panels, fabric-covered seating, carpet and other sound absorbing materials to help reduce reverberating sound to an ideal level of .4 seconds. 
For tasks that require a higher level of cognitive ability, such as writing, analysis, and reading, office designers need to consider planning spaces and purchasing office furniture that absorb, or create a barrier to unwanted sound. When walls and doors are not an option, consider workstations or cubicles that have higher panels, or use a wall of filing cabinets, or lockers, to divide the space. A mixture of bench style workstations work well for collaboration but have hard surfaces that do not absorb sound. The traditional cubicle with panels covered in fabric help to absorb sound that can reduce distracting sounds of an open office.
Make sure to consider the background noise of the building and outside when planning spaces. Lunchrooms or recreational areas where high energy is the choice of ambience are ideal in areas where it is difficult to mask certain noises.
Envirotech workspace consultants understand the importance of incorporating the right balance of visual design and sound design into the office environment. Contact us today to answer any questions or book a time to review your office space planning and furniture needs.
-  Reverberation Time Calculation – www.armstrong.com/reverb
-  TEDTalk – Julian Treasure: Why Architects Need to Use Their Ears
-  Top 10 Trends influencing Workplace Design #8 – Acoustics are Vital (#8 – Acoustics are vital).
- Designing Workspaces for Higher Productivity
- Can Better Offices Make Open Offices Suck Less? Fastcodesign.com
- Sound Effects: Finding perfect acoustics for a Productive Office – TheGuardian.com