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Combatting Noise with Open Plan Offices

Open plan office fitouts have become all the rage for a number of companies.

Not only can open plan office layout and design accommodate more workers into a smaller space, thereby saving businesses money, proponents also say open plan office fitouts foster greater community and collaboration amongst employees, something that many businesses thrive on.

However, one of the biggest drawbacks to open plan offices is increased noise levels, detractors say.

In a study regarding workplace satisfaction conducted by Professor Richard de Dear and PhD candidate Jungsoo Kim of the University of Sydney, two-thirds of those surveyed worked in open plan offices. Of this number, many expressed dissatisfaction regarding noise levels.

It’s hard to argue that noise won’t be a problem for open plan offices. While a lack of private space can create a better sense of community and make communication among co-workers easier, it can also distract employees and lead to less productivity.

This presents a conundrum for businesses. Fortunately, there are steps companies can take to maximise the benefits of open plan offices while minimising their downsides.

As far as construction is concerned, investing in sound-controlling office design can go a long way toward reducing unwanted noise. This includes ceiling tiles, fabrics and carpets designed to absorb sound.

However, while partitions or panels between workers might seem like an obvious way to reduce noise, the study from Mr de Dear and Mr Kim showed that dissatisfaction with sound privacy was even higher among those in offices that utilised partitions. Additionally, introducing partitions into an open plan office defeats the overall purpose of the space.

The simplest way to combat noise distraction might be to dedicate a portion of your office, say an employee breakout area, to meetings and communication that may require greater levels of talking.

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