How Acoustics affect your Monroe Office

How Acoustics affect your Monroe Office

Bad acoustics are often the culprit in many unsuccessful workplace design projects. Below, Steve Johnson, a principal at ADI Workplace Acoustics, explains how and why the proper use of sound masking and sound absorbing materials can make enormous improvements in your Monroe Office.


This is such an exciting time to be involved in the design and construction of the workplace. Huge changes are taking place: technology is allowing for more mobility and the concept of assigned space is changing due to this increased mobility. The result, increasingly, is a more open workplace with less personal space. Every week there are major publications  are highlighting new workplaces full of bright light, low or no space constraints and fewer assigned spaces.

In the articles, the professionals talk about collaboration and this invaluable personal interaction. But the comment sections employees working in similar workspaces are echoing the same responses: “I don’t like it here,” “I can’t concentrate,” and “It’s too loud.”

A short jaunt through NeoCon this year confirms that this issue is realized within the industry. There was a huge emphasis on personal spaces using beautiful moveable walls that offer quiet concentration space to modern wrap-around furniture to provide a simulated “cone of silence.”

Many of the spaces that are not succeeding have one common problem: bad acoustics. Frequent or constant distractions are some of the most detrimental symptoms of bad acoustics. When employees are distracted, they are less productive, make more errors and become dissatisfied in their work. The Wall Street Journal recently cited a study which found that once distracted, it can take 23 minutes for the average worker to regain concentration on a task.

Sound absorbing materials and sound masking in general are two very useful tools to help mitigate the acoustical challenges in open work spaces.

Sound Absorbing Materials

Absorptive materials reduce the amount of sound that ricochet’s off of one hard surface to another. Imagine a space with an exposed ceiling, windows around all the perimeter and a polished concrete floor. The sound of employees speaking bounces around from one hard surface to the next. The sound has nowhere to go but into the ears of the employees. As one employee talks, a nearby employee talks a little louder to be heard. This competition continues until the space sounds like a call center and focus is impossible.

Using a high performing acoustical ceiling will absorb a substantial amount of sound in an open space. The NRC rating of ceiling tiles, measures the percentage of sound energy that is absorbed by a material and kept from bouncing back into the space.

If ceilings do not fit into your design concept, there are many creative ways to use absorptive materials. Ceiling mounted baffles and wall mounted acoustical panels are available in many attractive & interesting varieties. The sound will not build up to such high levels due to the reduced reflection.

Sound Masking

We have one more tool! Most commercial office buildings have a relatively low level of background sound. Low ambient noise levels are due to efficient HVAC systems and good exterior insulation. This can be the enemy of concentration. The drop of a pin can be heard from across the room in very quiet spaces. This is one of the key factors in employee productivity. If every nearby conversation can be overheard and understood then focus becomes a difficult challenge.

A well-tuned sound masking system in a wide open environment,  will reduce the distance at which conversations can be understood.

Sound masking is a soft, uniform background sound. By slightly elevating the ambient noise level, conversations at a distance becomes unintelligible. This is often described, by many people as soft rushing air. A sound masking system is comprised of speakers, placed above the ceiling, suspended from an exposed structure or under raised access flooring. When installed properly, occupants of the space are unable to determine the source of the sound.

This improvement allows employees to collaborate freely, yet their collaboration does not distract the population who surrounds them.

Workplace trends may swing over time but it seems, like it or not, that the open office is here for the foreseeable future. Design teams that include acoustics in their planning check list will find end-users more productive and more satisfied once the space is complete.