If you have one of those 9 to 5 jobs, chances are your organisation has made the decision of long tables, wall-less spaces and exposed ceilings that are also known as open-plan offices. While it is arguably true that wiping out cubicles in the workplace can encourage greater camaraderie, it might be useful to note that we are, slowly but surely, approaching a point of diminishing returns. Here is why: More collaboration brings more talking, more talking brings more noise and more noise makes productivity drop. It looks like we have come a full circle.
If noise at your workplace (including the buzz of gadgets) is the biggest barrier to your productivity, here are a few tips to help you recover it — and your sanity of course.

#1 Constant noise is not bad, intermittent noise is

Image of sound waves in ear

Sounds counter-intuitive? While all the noise in an open plan office may seem disruptive, a meta-analysis of 242 studies showed that it is very difficult to ignore people speaking a few words in sentences with pauses. It is way easier to focus in a loud environment where there is a constant buzz of many conversations. This is because all the words blend together and no single conversation is distinguishable. This is precisely why it’s easier to work in places like cafes and canteens.

#2 Take a look at sound-absorbing options

If you have an open-plan office, sound-proofing options are your best bet at controlling and minimising noise. To begin with, the most cost-effective and functional options are acoustic panels. These panels are specially made to absorb sound waves and prevent them from bouncing off hard surfaces, creating echoes. They can be installed on ceilings, used as desk dividers, on lights and walls, so you have many ways to contain the noise. Another tip to reducing noise is opting for carpet or vinyl flooring instead of wood or tiles since they are better at absorbing noise. A more expensive but sound-proof solution is a dedicated office meeting pod. These pods make collaboration and conversations easier, without contributing to noise pollution.

Mutedesign Acoustic panels

#3 Organising your tasks will take you a long way

Daily Planner on Office Desk

Tasks like sending emails do not need pin-drop silence. But creative tasks like writing content or coding need quiet environments to be able to focus. The trick here is to schedule easy tasks when the environment is noisy and wait till it gets quieter or move to a quieter room to complete tougher tasks. Working in a quiet room will also boost your concentration and productivity.

#4 Plants to the rescue

We cannot stress enough the benefits of having a green office. One of the lesser known benefits includes noise reduction properties. Strategically placed plants are effective in curbing noises and echoes in an open office setting. The larger the plant, the bigger the impact. Not to forget its aesthetic benefits and its positive impact on air quality! You can have a plant at your desk, in and around the office and even opt for moss and green walls to curb those loud noises.

Green wall to reduce noise in office

#5 Wall Partitions for the win

Zone dividers in an open plan office

Open plan offices can be tough on your productivity in the sense that there is no way to shield yourself from the various types of sounds that occur. A tried and tested solution is partitions or zone dividers. Whether your office is big or small, these dividers provide acoustic goodness to all sorts of spaces. These zone dividers can be simple acoustic screens or versatile zone dividers with accessories like plants, lights and acoustic panels. These partitions not only eliminate visual distractions but also buffer noise and come in all colours and sizes!

#6 When all else fails to work, switch to noise cancelling headphones

Don’t worry if none of these tips work for you. We have some good news. Noise cancelling headphones are very affordable. Of course, this might mean that you occasionally get startled when colleagues try to reach you, but trust us, this is a godsend. These headphones fight noise with noise. If you aren’t a fan of music blaring in your ears as you work, you can also put your headphones on with no music. This way the noise will be muffled, though we can’t guarantee full noise elimination.

Woman with noise cancelling headphones in office

It is good to have a few tricks up your sleeve rather than being flustered when noisy situations arise. If you are looking for more workplace tips and tricks, you might like to check out some of our other blog posts from how to declutter your desk to how to save space in a small office.