Acoustics Matter: Overcoming Challenges in Open Office Design

Have you ever had one of those days when working hard to meet a looming deadline, numerous distractions kept interrupting you? By the end of the day, exhausted, with little to show for it? For today’s workforce, this describes a typical day at the office.

45% of employees work only 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted, according to results of a 2011 survey commissioned by Once distracted, it can take an employee up to 23 minutes to refocus, according to a Gallup Business Journal interview with Gloria Mark, a professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine.

In addition to increased employee stress and dissatisfaction, daily distractions effect a company’s bottom line. As reported by, distractions in the workplace could cost a company more than $10 million a year - or more than $10,000 - per employee.

Studies also show acoustics are a top complaint among office workers. Current trends in open office design pose new challenges for designers, with acoustics being more important now than ever for the end user. Common workplace areas that require additional acoustical considerations include:

  • Places where people collaborate frequently, including open meeting areas, conference rooms, break rooms, and printer stations
  • Large spaces, such as lobbies, reception areas, and cafeterias
  • High traffic corridors and pathways
Acoustic Wall Panel - Murano Acoustics

Acoustic Wall Panel - Murano Acoustics

Office buildings aren’t the only type of building that require extra attention when it comes to acoustical planning. Recommended acoustic guidelines for hospitals and schools are now provided in LEED v4. LEED certified buildings save money and resources. They have a positive impact on the health of occupants, while promoting renewable, clean energy.

Proper Planning

In addition to the costs of employee distraction, retrofitting for acoustic problems once a project has been completed can be costly- with additional office disruptions during renovations. With proper planning at the beginning stage, these problems can be avoided.

Sound Matters, produced by GSA Public Building Services, is a robust, comprehensive study into the connection between office design and business performance. Full of useful data & in-depth research, the report outlines numerous planning suggestions & good practices for improving acoustics in the office space. Click here to access the full report

With proper planning, noise pollution can be greatly reduced, leading to a more productive and profitable work environment for both the company and the employee. Once acoustic conditions have been optimized, significant improvements have been reported in the performance of both simple and complex tasks (38 per cent and 27 per cent respectively), according to findings by CABE.

Ascetics & Sustainable Design

Sustainable design requires attention to the materials used in construction. In today’s marketplace, new sustainable acoustic solutions are available in a variety of materials and styles. 

Sound Absorption Ceiling Panels - Murano Acoustics

Sound Absorption Ceiling Panels - Murano Acoustics

Ranging from materials that utilize the sustainability of natural wood to perforated metal solutions, enhancing acoustic performance can add to the ascetics of the building’s interior. Wooden ceiling panels, ceiling mounted baffles and wall mounted panels can be used to for effective sound management. Perforated metal, in addition to adding visual interest, can also serve to further deflect noise, and can play an active role to eliminate specific sound frequencies.

John Rocco Sales represents manufacturers of sustainable products, providing innovative and unique solutions to accent your overall design and project goals. For additional information on our sustainable product solutions, please contact us.

Additional Reading & Resources:

Collaboration & Social Tools Drain Business Productivity, Costing Millions in Work Interruptions

Acoustical Analysis in Office Environments Using POE Surveys
Center for the Built Environment (CBE) at UC Berkeley

Too Many Interruptions at Work?
Gallup Business Journal

Sound Matters: How to Achieve Acoustic Comfort in the Contemporary Office
U.S. General Services Administration, GSA Public Buildings Service

The Impact of Office Design on Business Performance
The Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment (CABE)

LEED | U.S. Green Building Council