Beyond Partition Walls: Ways to Further Reduce Noise in an Office

Introduced in the mid-2000s by forward-thinking tech companies, the open office concept promised to break down not just physical partitions but also communication barriers. The idea was simple: without the confines of cubicle walls, there would be free-flowing interaction, collaboration, and teamwork that ushered team productivity to entirely new heights.

But there’s one aspect of the open-concept floor plan that was either ignored or overlooked: the noise.

As it turns out, crowding people into a shared space and asking them to work on their various individual and team tasks can create quite the racket. Now, having dealt with the fallout of this design decision—drops in productivity, focus, and, ironically, communication—many companies are scrambling to reduce the office din with measures that go beyond partition walls.

Want to reduce noise in your home office?

In this guide, we’ll explore the benefits of a quiet workspace and several strategies you can implement to turn down the volume—and turn up the productivity.

The Challenge of Noise in an Open Office Layout 

Unsurprisingly, noise can be the bane of productivity. Think of how distracting—and annoying for some—a single coworker crunching on a bag of chips can be. Then, multiply that by however many employees you have operating alongside one another.

Between the clatter of keyboards, the hum of office chatter, the chorus of one-sided phone calls, and the constant movement of people going about their daily duties, there are simply too many potential distractions. And, a growing body of evidence suggests that the open office undermines the very goals that it originally sought to achieve.

In 2011, organizational psychologist Matthew Davis performed a meta-analysis on more than a hundred company office environments, concluding that they ultimately caused far more harm than good.1

On one hand, open offices made employees feel as though they were part of a forward-thinking and relaxed corporate culture. But this came at a significant cost to their attention spans, creative thinking, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. When compared to a conventional office setup, employees in open spaces typically reported:

  • More uncontrolled interactions with coworkers
  • Higher stress levels
  • Reduced concentration
  • Reduced motivation

Moreover, a Harvard Business Review study from 2019 discovered that transitioning to an open office led to a 70% drop in face-to-face interactions. Employees, in an attempt to drown out the noise, resorted to wearing headphones and communicating electronically—even if their colleagues were within arm’s reach.2

These findings—along with many other contemporary studies—call into question the very premise that originally justified the open office design fad.

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Ways to Reduce Office Noise 

If you’re looking for ways to reduce the noise in your office to promote productivity, motivation, and collaboration, try these ideas:

Choose the Right Office Layout

If you’re in the process of designing your office layout, avoid the entirely open office design plan. ​​While its ethos of collaboration is commendable, its shortcomings are evident.

Instead, consider championing a hybrid model—a balanced blend of open communal spaces for spirited collaboration and quieter, private areas earmarked for focused, individual work. This creates a versatile workspace that can cater to a diverse range of tasks, work styles, and noise tolerances, effectively circumventing the typical audio pitfalls of open offices.

On the other hand, if your office layout is already largely set, don’t fret. You can make subtle tweaks that go a long way toward reducing the volume of your office soundscape; just remember the three R’s:

  • Rearrange – Experiment where you can with the layout. Ideally, you want to break up large open spaces with clusters of desks, communal areas, or even room divider wall or office partition to prevent noise from traveling too far.
  • Repurpose – Identify quiet or underutilized spaces and designate them as ‘Quiet Zones’ for focused, individual work.
  • Realign – Move noise sources, such as printers, coffee machines, or high-footfall areas, away from workspaces to reduce distractions.

Try Sound Absorption 

Does sound freely move throughout your office space, echoing or bleeding into other areas of the building?

One way to reduce this unwanted sound is by applying sound absorbing materials.

Typically, sound absorbing materials are soft and light, designed to sponge up the energy of sound waves. When properly installed and strategically placed, these items can diminish echo and reverb and diffuse ambient noise.

The most conventional sound absorbing solutions—such as fabric-wrapped acoustical panels or acoustical foam panels—can be affixed directly to the finished surfaces of traditional walls or ceilings, creating a sound-dampening barrier that helps absorb the clamor of office life, containing it to a single interior space.

For a more advanced approach—one that caters to the open office setting—consider adding specialty sound absorbers like diffusers or baffles, which can be suspended from the ceiling to disrupt and disperse sound.

Don’t Forget Soundproofing

While sound absorption plays a vital role in managing office acoustics, you can’t overlook the importance of a soundproof room, especially for a new build. If your planned office design layout will include dedicated rooms—be they a conference room or private office—strategically integrating soundproofing materials into the traditional walls or ceilings can drastically improve your office’s acoustical landscape.

Unlike sound absorbing materials, soundproofing elements are typically denser and heavier. They work by decoupling the wall assembly and reflecting the sound back into the room, effectively preventing it from seeping through to the other side.

It’s vital to note the distinction: soundproofing is about impeding noise, while sound absorption focuses on soaking up the echo. These separate methods can complement one another to improve acoustic design, but they’re not analogs.

For effective soundproofing, there are three primary ways to block sound:

  1. Add mass – Enhance the office partition wall’s weight by increasing its mass and density, making it a more formidable barrier to sound transmission.
  2. Decouple – Modify the wall assembly so that one side doesn’t physically touch the other, reducing the paths for sound to travel.
  3. Dampen – Neutralize the vibrational energy of the wall to prevent it from transmitting sound.

Fortunately, there are plenty of soundproofing materials available . For instance, to dampen vibrational energy, you could sandwich a layer of Green Glue—a potent vibration-dampening compound—between two layers of drywall. Alternatively, adding a mass-loaded vinyl barrier to your interior partition wall assembly can significantly increase its density and, consequently, its ability to curb noise transmission.

Pump in White Noise Machines for Offices

It may seem counterintuitive, but to mitigate office noise effectively, you might have to fight fire with fire—or in this case, noise with noise.

In response to the open office din, many contemporary workplaces are harnessing the power of white noise machines to create a more balanced acoustic environment. They’re either installing dedicated white noise speakers or integrating white noise streams into their existing audio systems to pumps in sounds like:

  • Rain falling
  • Waves crashing
  • Fans running
  • Running water
  • Drying machines
  • TV static
  • Wind

What’s the science behind this? According to CNN:3

“Just like light, sound is made of many colors. White light is a combination of all the color wavelengths in the spectrum—when they are seen together, they look white to the eye. White noise is the auditory equivalent of white light—a combo of every frequency on the acoustic spectrum, which blends together to mask most small sounds regardless of their frequency.”

In other words, the gentle rustle of white noise produces a continuous sound that masks abrupt changes in noise levels. It effectively functions as a sonic barrier that drowns out other less pleasant sounds.

Add Greenery and Plants 

Want an interesting idea that not only brings visual appeal and vitality into your workspace but also doubles as an effective sound-dampening measure?

Make your office green.

Plants do more than just beautify your office—they can play a significant role in fostering employee well-being and simultaneously reducing office noise. How?

Many plants, especially those with broad leaves, can absorb, diffract, and reflect sound.

So, consider installing green walls—also known as living walls. These vertical gardens can be attached to the existing wall of your office, or be added as free-standing structures in order to naturally break up an open layout.

Encourage Noise Etiquette 

While architectural tweaks and technological solutions for soundproofing a door, wall, or for ceiling acoustic treatment can make a difference in noise levels, the final piece of the puzzle is about fostering proper behavioral norms within the workplace.

But what exactly are some examples of proper noise etiquette?

  • Being mindful of noise levels – Remind employees of their volume. Encourage them to keep conversations to an indoor volume level and move extended conversations to a more secluded area.
  • Setting separate meeting spaces – Ideally, group meetings, calls, Zoom meetings, and so on should take place in a room that’s closed off from the central workspace so that employees who aren’t involved won’t be distracted.
  • Eating in the breakroom – The ‘crunch’ of a coworker munching on their lunch can be a rather off-putting sound for many. To avoid this, encourage employees to use designated dining rooms or break rooms for meals and snacks.

Discover Effective Noise Reduction Solutions for Your Office

Working in an open office space doesn’t have to mean dealing with a noisy environment. Here’s the good news: there are specific noise reduction strategies you can implement to create a work environment that’s quieter and less distracting.

Need guidance for that?

At Acoustical Surfaces, we’re not just about products—we’re about finding solutions. We offer an array of sound absorbing and soundproofing materials designed to improve the acoustic environment of any office space, large or small. But we don’t stop there. Our team of seasoned sound professionals can help guide you toward the best noise reduction solutions for your unique interior space and even help with installation.

If you’re ready to bring serenity to your office space, talk to an acoustic expert today.



  1. APA PsycNet. The physical environment of the office: Contemporary and emerging issues.
  2. Harvard Business Review. The Truth About Open Offices.
  3. CNN. White noise (and pink and brown): The science behind the sounds.

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