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How to Cut Down the Noise Level

January 6, 1999
Related Topics: Ergonomics and Facilities, Featured Article
Today's office environment little resembles an office of 20 years ago: Walls have been torn down, and computers, printers, copiers and fax machines run constantly. All this results in a noise level that can be distracting to employees. There are some fairly easy steps you can take to lessen the impact of this increasing noise level, to help to increase productivity and to lower job stress.

  • Examine the layout of the workstation.
  • Position telephones so that neighbors aren't facing each other. Consider arranging them to face an opposite wall or at least a corner.
  • Provide tall panels.
  • From an acoustical standpoint, your walls should be between 52 inches and 75 inches tall (after 75 inches, you won't experience much additional benefit).
  • Invest in a masking sound system.
  • A masking sound system electronically generates a sound similar to that of moving air. Speakers installed in the ceiling broadest the uniform sound to mask peaks in the speech spectrum.
  • Examine the quality of acoustical ceiling tiles.
  • Look for a Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) of at least .85. (This means 85% of the soundwaves striking the tile are absorbed.) The very best tiles offer an NRC of 95.
  • Don't count on the carpet to do the job.
  • Carpeting absorbs very little office sound—only footfall. The ceiling plays a much greater role.
  • Keep panels uncluttered.
  • Tacking up notes can actually diminish acoustical quality.
  • Don't worry about a quiet hum.

Many workers need some noise to be productive. This level will vary with the individual and the task at hand. But the type of noise and actual conversations should not be distinguishable for maximum privacy and productivity.

Source: Steelcase Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan. Spring 1996.

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