Office Acoustics – Demand Better!

What’s the problem with office acoustics? 

As Julian Treasure  points out in one of his TED talks, architects and designers tend to focus exclusively on the eyes. “They use them to design with, and they design for them”. As a result, many of us end up spending our working lives packed into open plan offices that sound a lot like this.

Recent research findings on office noise. 

Kim and Dear (2013) found that around 60% of office workers are dissatisfied with sound privacy, and around 30% are dissatisfied with noise level.

The most recent research from the Leesman Index paints an even worse picture:

  • Noise levels are the tenth most commonly cited “important part of an effective workplace” (behind desk, chair, computer equipment etc).
  • 75% of people consider noise important.
  • Only around 25% of people are satisfied with noise conditions in their workplace.

Why do we put up with this? Surely as acousticians, architects and interior designers, we have a responsibility to deliver spaces where people will perform at their best. Unfortunately, budget constraints are often an issues, and acoustics is neglected in favour of visible design elements.

From your ears straight to the bottom line.

This may be a huge mistake. Are you aware that this noise reduces the productivity of knowledge workers in an open plan office setting by 66%? (Banbury & Berry, 1998)

If we can work that much more effectively in good acoustic conditions, it stands to reason we can make our organisations more profitable, just by considering acoustic as well as architectural and interior design.

But let’s not stop there. If we reduce noise, and allow people appropriate conditions in which to work (which may include quiet rooms to retreat to), it’s not unreasonable to expect that this might make them healthier, and happier – meaning less profit lost due to sickness and recruitment (Evans & Johnson, 2000, Pejtersen et al 2011).

The spend on acoustic design is a one off. The benefits will last you forever.

Our campaign for better office acoustics.

Throughout 2014, dBx Acoustics is committed to raising awareness of the many benefits of good acoustic design in the workplace, and in particular office acoustics. We will be publishing a series of articles, audio demonstrations and examples of good and bad practice, as well as keeping you updated on our progress.

We have already started a survey to find out how people feel about sound in their workspaces. Please join in – it only takes a couple of minutes to complete.

If you are an architect, interior designer or office user who would like to get involved, let us know.

If you work in an office which you think is great, or terrible, we’d also love to hear from you; we want to gather data on what makes a good office!

How can dBx Acoustics help?

We are highly qualified, award-winning acoustic designers with significant experience of office acoustic design. We can work as part of your design team to make sure all aspects of acoustics are considered, from building services noise to reverberation control, ensuring good speech intelligibility. We can also advise on sound insulation between cellular spaces, preventing confidential conversations from being overheard and providing appropriate privacy to meeting rooms and offices.

We understand that your eyes will never be unimportant when designing a workspace, so we can suggest a range of acoustic options to fit with your aesthetic requirements.

We can also help you to consider the layout of your open plan space, positioning teams with differing noise generation and tolerance profiles to control disturbance as far as possible.

Our experience.

Our lead acoustic designer, Susan Witterick, has 16 years experience of office design, including well-known schemes such as:

New build:

  • Chiswick Place, London (with Arup Acoustics)
  • Airbus new office building (with Capita Symonds)
  • Matalan HQ, Knowsley (with Capita Symonds)

Fit out:

  • KPMG, various schemes (with Capita Symonds and dBx Acoustics)
  • Western Digital, Irvine, California (with Newson Brown Acoustics)
  • Dresdener Kleinwort, 30 Gresham Street (with Applied Acoustic Design)

 Most recently, dBx Acoustics has been involved in the design of high-privacy meeting space for a confidential client in London.

Act now – make a difference.

It’s never too late. Whether you are considering a new build or a move to a new office, or have issues in your existing offices, we can help. Contact us now for a complementary 30-minute consultation. With offices in London and Manchester, we consult nationwide.


Banbury, Simon, and Dianne C. Berry. “Disruption of office‐related tasks by speech and office noise.” British Journal of Psychology 89.3 (1998): 499-517.

Evans, Gary W., and Dana Johnson. “Stress and open-office noise.” Journal of Applied Psychology 85.5 (2000): 779.

Kim, Jungsoo, and Richard de Dear. “Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 36 (2013): 18-26.

Pejtersen, Jan H., et al. “Sickness absence associated with shared and open-plan offices—a national cross sectional questionnaire survey.” Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health (2011): 376-382.

The Leesman Review 13-2 (May 2013) available at

dBx helps boost productivity in co-working space

As the workplace evolves, more and more people are working flexibly – whether that be late at night, from a sun terrace in Italy, or in a specially designed co-working space.

Clockwise provide the latter – contemporary private offices and shared workspace with flexible membership plans. With sites in Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow, we were delighted to be asked to work on their “new kid on the dock” at the iconic Edward Pavilion on Liverpool’s world-famous Albert Dock.

Appointed by international construction company Ardmac in 2018 and working alongside architects 74, we were asked to help with specifying partitions between the workspaces. Sound insulation is very important for bustling co-working spaces, helping to provide settings that support different activities, such as having private conversations, focused/individual work and collaborative sessions.

We assisted the partition specification and detailing to maintain sound insulation between different workspaces while ensuring we didn’t impact the fabric of the building, which is a 19th century warehouse with preserved original features, including cast iron columns, Victorian brickwork and barrel vaulted ceilings.

We also worked on building services noise control, particularly on the upper floor, which features air handling units sitting on plant decks suspended within the open plan office space.

A historic building on a historic site, we’re proud to have worked on this challenging and exciting project.

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