Despite what remote work enthusiasts might say, office work is here to stay. And no matter how the workspace is arranged, every type of office can be loud and distracting.
Traditional offices are filled with rows of cubicles that are meant to increase concentration, focus, and productivity. But even cubicles can’t block out noisy coworkers and keyboards.
And if you’re thinking about those external sounds, you’re probably not working much. So how do you soundproof your office cubicle to get more done? Here are 15 ways to hone your focus and productivity at work.
15 ways to soundproof your cubicle for offices of all shapes and sizes
1. Upgrade your office with acoustic partitions
The most efficient way to soundproof your cubicles is by upgrading the cubicle walls themselves. Acoustic cubicles reduce unwanted noise, improve speech clarity, and help define your aural space.
Plus, they’re portable. If you have an open office space but need small cubicles for quick team huddles or private meetings, you can quickly set up and take down an efficient noise barrier.
2. Outfit drop ceilings with acoustic ceiling tiles
High ceilings are great for increasing the perceived size of office space, amplifying natural light, and improving ventilation. You know what they’re not great for? Mitigating noise.
But if you want to control the noise in your office space, you don’t have to give up high ceilings. Outfit your drop ceiling with acoustic tiles to reduce reverberation and noise. They dampen sound waves to help soundproof individual cubicles and entire office spaces.
3. Decorate your wall with stylish acoustic wall panels
Just like ceilings, sound waves bounce off walls and carry across the entire office. Nobody wants to hear a conversation from the other side of the building.
With acoustic wall panels, you don’t have to. Diffuse sound near the source and reduce echo across the entire space. When paired with ceiling tiles, you’ll have full control over the sound in the office.
4. Swap your hardwood or tile floors for soft carpet or area rugs
Hard surfaces reflect sound waves while soft surfaces absorb them. Swapping out your hardwood or tile flooring for carpet can go a long way in cutting down sound. This is especially true if there’s constant foot traffic – clicking high heels and dress shoes are enough to distract even the most focused workers.
If renovating the entire floor is out of the question, consider adding some area rugs to walkways or even in individual cubicles.
5. Everyone needs their own space - spread out the cubicles
Sound waves decrease in amplitude as the distance from their source increases. Simply put, it will be quieter the further you are away from the source.
If there’s room to add space between each of the cubicles, spread them out. Even a few feet will go a long way in soundproofing the mini offices.
6. Redesign the office layout
Spreading out cubicles will significantly reduce the noise in your office. But if you don’t have the room, there’s another option. Just rearrange the layout – here are some ideas:
- Group quiet employees and loud employees together, then spread them apart as far as possible. Louder employees won’t mind and quieter employees will flourish without less noise.
- If you can’t move the cubicle, move the people. If two employees in adjacent cubicles are facing each other while speaking, a divider won’t do much to mitigate the sound. If one or both of them were to face a different direction, there would be a noticeable decrease in sound.
- Stagger the partitions in a checkered pattern. Sound waves won’t travel directly towards each other and weaken over the added distance.
7. Think like a city planner – vertically
Imagine office cubicles as a growing city. Each square foot of floor space is valuable real estate that you can’t afford to waste. And when there’s no room left to build horizontally, cities build vertically.
Invest in taller dividers to block out more noise and increase sound privacy. As an added bonus, they offer visual privacy against nosy coworkers without sacrificing square footage.
8. Soften up the space
Sound waves move like water, traveling through small spaces and around large barriers. Though acoustic barriers will significantly reduce their impact, there will always be some residual sounds.
To account for this, furnish empty spaces with softer decorations such as plants, cushioned chairs, and curtains. Sound waves will bounce off these extra furnishings, diminishing every time they hit something.
9. Add personal white noise and sound masking machines
White noise machines aren’t just for bedrooms. They emit a constant neutral sound, which blurs unwanted noise. In turn, they boost concentration and block out your coworkers’ conversations.
These are one of the simplest ways to control the sound in individual cubicles. You don’t need anything fancy – a low-powered fan will do the trick.
10. Play ambient noise in your personal space
Ambient noise is another term for background noise. Basically, it’s every noise that’s occurring while you focus on a primary sound. Common workplace examples are electrical noise, keyboard clicks, and other conversations.
Sometimes, these can be distracting. But when played intentionally in a confined space, they actually improve focus and productivity. And, there are plenty of mobile apps and websites with a variety of ambient sounds.
11. Pick up a pair of noise-canceling headphones
There are few things more annoying than an office neighbor who talks like they’re yelling or someone who uses a mechanical keyboard. Noise-canceling headphones are the ultimate personal soundproofing tool when you want some peace and quiet.
12. Say goodbye to mechanical keyboards
Speaking of mechanical keyboards… They’ve recently gained popularity due to their long lifespan and tactile design. Each key has a switch underneath it which helps users type faster and more accurately.
Unfortunately for everyone else, they are loud and annoying. Stop sound at the source and eliminate these kinds of keyboards in the office.
13. Block external noise and channel your focus with earplugs
If headphones aren’t your thing, earplugs offer the same protection at a fraction of the cost.
Though commonly used in loud environments such as construction sites and live music events, they’re great for blocking out sounds in a busy office space.
And even though they block most sound vibrations, you should be able to hear if someone is speaking directly to you. This means you won’t have to constantly take them on and off.
14. Designate a conference or meeting room
Most employees take short 15-30 minute meetings at their desk. But for long conference calls or full days of meetings, they should consider stepping into a private space to avoid disturbing their coworkers.
If there’s not a designated meeting space, build one with room dividers or tall partitions.
15. Get the most out of virtual meeting platforms
Background noise is frustrating, especially if you’re not even in the room. And even though virtual meetings have become the norm lately, many people still haven’t figured out how to use them effectively.
Next time you have a virtual meeting, check your settings to make sure the other participants can hear you clearly, free from any background noise. Here are instructions for the top platforms: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.
Cubicles aren’t going anywhere. They increase effectiveness and create a sense of privacy among employees. Plus, they’re far cheaper than private offices.
With these actionable ways to soundproof office cubicles, you ensure that all of your employees are happy and productive.