Because making a workspace larger is not only unhelpful
but also largely impractical in most situations, look for ways
to cover or absorb sound. Placing an apparatus that provides
unstructured sound, i.e. “white noise,” to mask sound from
discussions that take place in nearby workspaces can provide
more speech privacy.
3) High partitions will block the most sound.
Inserting higher partitions into an already existing office
environment might actually cause individual workspaces to
become louder. There are two main reasons that low partitions can actually improve acoustics.
First, high partitions ineffectively block sound. Blocking
sound with a high partition requires structural planning
that fully interrupts the ceiling, which can be expensive if
not done in the initial design. Instead, low partitions with
absorptive ceiling, floor and wall surfaces can be more
effective in preventing sound from reflecting.
Second, high partitions often cause people to talk louder.
Assuming that the high partition provides more speech privacy, those in high partitions are apt to speak more loudly
because they are unable to see how sound leaks into adjacent workspaces.
With the right choice in surfaces that absorb sound, low
partitions provide more effective and affordable options to
4) Doors of any kind will eliminate outside noise.
Just because a door is closed, it may not be able to prevent
sound from coming into the room. Its composition and edge
seals are of utmost importance.
Doors that have hinges, an insulated core and seals on
three sides provide the best sound protection. The ability
to seal most of the perimeter makes the hinged door a safer
bet to block sound.
Sliding doors are best to avoid if you are experiencing
sound issues in a room. They are typically glass, which has
a low Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating. Additionally,
they have sliding tracks on the top and bottom that cannot
be as effectively sealed as a hinged door.
5) Acoustical design is only needed in a few critical
“The entire building is a system, and while some areas
may be more high profile than others, a comprehensive
look at acoustics for a building and surrounding areas is the
best approach to robust acoustical outcomes,” says Holaday.
Austin Edell, Associate Designer and Project Manager in
Baltimore, echoes this idea by referring to a building as a
“many-faceted organism that evolves as a team progresses.”
Therefore, individual changes in the acoustical design can
have much broader implications.
Attempting to fix individual areas can be somewhat
tricky because what might help one area can be detrimental
to another. Consider working with an acoustician to help
you find the most efficient ways to improve sound design
while keeping in mind the interrelated components from
which it is comprised.
6) Improving sound design is expensive.
Fixing acoustical problems requires an ability to diagnose
problems effectively. If improvements are attempted without
fully understanding the problem, it can end up becoming
more expensive. Edell notes, “An acoustician has developed
the best tool for this – the trained ear. When acoustics is
generalized, the true source of the space’s inadequacy may
It can be hard to detect problematic areas or know
the root of a suboptimal sound issue. If inadequately
handled, sound problems can become even worse than
they previously were. One of the keys is simply know-
ing the dynamics of acoustics, which often requires help
from a trained professional.
Certainly some sound design solutions are inherently
costly when completed after the design process, but many
require only small, strategic changes that can make a
major difference. You can limit expenses through careful planning and consideration of how sound can move
throughout your building.
Be sure to check absorptive materials’ STC ratings and
examine workplace arrangements closely. Sometimes,
all it takes to reduce the transmission of sound across an
office is turning a desk or reconfiguring a cubicle arrangement. Regardless of what you plan to do, a thorough
understanding of your location’s sound design is critical.
For most FMs, controlling acoustics requires working
with what you are given with the building you manage, but
with the right knowledge, there are solutions (both large and
small) that will keep sound at a level most appropriate for
Justin Feit firstname.lastname@example.org is assistant editor of
Sliding doors are best to
avoid if you are experiencing
sound issues in a room.
They are typically glass, which
has a low Sound Transmission
Class (STC) rating.