Acoustic Considerations in Open Plan Workspaces

Introduction to Acoustic Challenges in Open Plan Workspaces

Open plan workspaces, characterized by their large, uninterrupted floor plans and collaborative working environments, have become increasingly popular in contemporary office design. However, these spaces often bring about acoustic challenges that can negatively impact employee productivity, satisfaction, and well-being. Addressing these acoustic issues is crucial for creating a comfortable and efficient workspace¹.

Understanding Sound Propagation in Open Spaces

In open plan offices, sound propagates freely, leading to higher noise levels and potential distractions. The lack of physical barriers contributes to the ease with which sound travels, and certain design elements, such as hard surfaces and minimal furnishings, can exacerbate these issues by reflecting and amplifying sound².

Strategies for Noise Reduction and Sound Management

Acoustic Materials

Incorporating materials that absorb or diffuse sound can significantly reduce noise levels. Acoustic panels, carpets, and ceiling tiles are commonly used to dampen sound and create a more comfortable acoustic environment³.

Furniture and Layout

Strategic placement of furniture can also play a role in managing sound propagation. High-backed chairs and sofas, as well as freestanding screens, can serve as informal barriers that help to absorb sound and create semi-private spaces within the open plan⁴.

Dedicated Quiet Zones

Establishing areas specifically designed for quiet work or contemplation can provide employees with a respite from the bustling environment of the open plan office. These zones should be acoustically treated to minimise noise intrusion and create a peaceful setting.

Sound Masking

Sound masking systems introduce a background sound, akin to a gentle hum, which helps to mask unwanted noise and create a more consistent acoustic environment. These systems can be particularly effective in open plan spaces, where noise sources are varied and unpredictable⁵.

Balancing Collaboration and Concentration

One of the main advantages of open plan workspaces is the facilitation of communication and collaboration among employees. However, this should not come at the expense of individual concentration and comfort. Balancing these needs requires a thoughtful approach to acoustic design, ensuring that the space supports a variety of work-styles and preferences.

Employee Involvement in Acoustic Solutions

Engaging employees in the process of acoustic planning and implementation can lead to more effective and satisfying outcomes. Understanding individual needs and preferences allows for tailored solutions that enhance both the acoustic quality and overall experience of the open plan workspace.

As the popularity of open plan workspaces continues to grow, addressing their inherent acoustic challenges becomes increasingly important. Employing a combination of materials, design strategies, and sound management solutions can create a balanced acoustic environment that supports productivity, collaboration, and well-being.


  1. De Been, I., & Beijer, M. (2014). The influence of office type on satisfaction and perceived productivity support. Journal of Facilities Management, 12(2), 142-157. Journal of Facilities Management.
  2. Hongisto, V. (2005). A model predicting the effect of speech of varying intelligibility on work performance. Indoor Air, 15(6), 458-468. Indoor Air.
  3. Veitch, J. A., & Newsham, G. R. (2000). Exercised control, lighting choices, and energy use: An office simulation experiment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 20(3), 219-237. Journal of Environmental Psychology.
  4. Sundstrom, E., & Sundstrom, M. G. (1986). Work places: The psychology of the physical environment in offices and factories. Cambridge University Press. Work Places.
  5. Bradley, J. S. (1986). Predictors of speech intelligibility in rooms. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 80(3), 837-845. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.



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