Sound Advice

Sound Advice



CCER’s Desiree Blackett lays out some facts that might have you hearing the world a little differently.


Facts about sound

  • There is a difference between sound and noise. Sound is what we hear, noise is sounds we don’t want or like
  • Our optimum sound level contains no more than 25 percent noise
  • Not everyone’s sound preferences are the same.  One size does not fit all, factors such as age, personality type and sensory category all affect the environment we wish to work in
  • We don’t usually mind sound – it made our prehistoric selves feel safe


Pyschoacoustics 101

  • Psychoacoustics is the study of our psychological responses to sound
  • Psychoacoustics is useful for employers as it tells us how people perceive sound in the workplace and how this affects health, well being and performance
  • The three most common sources of dissatisfaction for office workers are:
    • Distraction from people talking
    • Lack of privacy and
    • Lack of control

The standard fixed workstation, open plan or hot-desking office environment provides the perfect environments for all of the above. It’s impossible to not be distracted by those around you.  There is no privacy and you’ve no control over what environment you work in.



The impact

  • A study conducted by Ecophon and the Stress Research Institute in Stockholm into how sound affects people in open plan offices, found that getting the sound conditions right led to a 30 percent reduction in perceived disturbance and a 15 percent reduction in cognitive stress

This tells us that open plan offices without effective sound barriers or special ‘quiet zones’ will impact us negatively.  Many organisations can’t afford major office renovations to change this.  But, there are some things we can do that don’t cost a fortune;



  • Consider where your noisy equipment is located – photocopiers, printers, shredders etc.  If possible, move your photocopiers to enclosed rooms or spaces away from where the majority of people work
  • Cover hard flooring with rugs to cut down on general office noise, echoing and reverberation
  • Insert some barriers between spaces such as sound insulated screens, a wall of greenery or some large plants, or consider introducing nature noises to some office spaces
  • Convert some offices to small meeting hubs or quiet zones, where people can go to get some quiet time when they need to concentrate
  • Have a supply of sound cancelling headsets handy that employees can borrow when they need quiet
  • And finally, introduce a social behavioural contract with everyone in the office. For example, agree that some areas will be quiet zones and some noisy, or that all social interactions will be in the lunchroom, or that all mobile telephone calls will be conducted in other locations.  Design it to suit your unique circumstances


It’s worth taking the time to consider the impact sound has on your workplace and implementing some simple changes. You may well find yourself reducing distractions, increasing productivity and fostering well-being – all very good reasons to take some sound advice.


Desiree Blackett is the Director of Operations  at CCER.  She is reporting from the Smart Workplaces Design Summit in Amsterdam.
Back to articles