When we think about going to work, we only ever picture the predictable aspects of work culture such as meetings, overtime, this and that report but we hardly ever spend any thought on the unpredictable which may occur in the form of a noisy work space or a loud cubicle neighbor.
Every office worker has had experience with a noisy cubicle neighbor who cannot do anything silently. The problems are endless, either they are typing like they want to destroy the keyboard, or humming as they type, or they keep taking phone calls and dropping things. Really annoying don’t you think?
This situation gets especially irritating when you are trying to make a phone call or are just trying to work on something without getting distracted. But there seems to be no easy way as the cubicle walls are thin enough to carry in every noise from the other side.
And to add to the problem is the very shape of a cubicle which is open on top and thus gives enough room for sounds to enter and leave. Moreover, the size and area one cubicle occupies is not that large and so what possibly can be done to reduce noise coming from the other side?
Well, you can try talking to the noisy person but if they take offense, things might get tense so instead, you should try solutions to soundproof cubicle walls or more importantly add soundproofing solutions to the office plan if you are the owner.
As a business owner with multiple people working under you also means that you are obligated to make sure that the work environment is optimal for everyone and thus soundproofing techniques should be incorporated into your floor plan as you build the office.
11 Methods to Soundproof Cubicle Walls
The first thing that you need to know is that none of these methods will completely block all sound because a cubicle has an open top and that is a big reason enough why sounds keep getting in.
But what you can do is control the amount of sound that gets in by soundproofing the office cubicles.
Add Soft Furniture to Your open Office Space
Let us start with something basic. When it comes to dealing with sound waves, soft surfaces perform much better than hard ones.
This is because sound waves have a hard time reflecting off of soft surfaces and get absorbed instead.
Therefore, an ingenious method of noise reduction in an open-plan office would be to add soft furniture in and around the cubicles.
High-backed couches, enclosed booths, and similar kinds of furniture will help to deal a lot with loud noises by reducing echoes and reverberations inside the office space. You can incorporate both aesthetics and functionality into this and get noise reduction as a bonus.
Soundproof Screens between Cubicles
If the space of your office is not large enough to afford space between all the cubicles, what you can do is install dividers between them. This can be used as sound barriers to address the issue of open-top cubicles too and you can heighten the divider to reach from ceiling to floor.
Divider screens made of sound dampening material go a long way to control the sound that passes between two office cubicles and give each worker a quiet environment to work. It is also a convenient method for ensuring privacy.
These can work as an alternative to screens or dividers or a temporary solution unless the dividers are set up.
If you are an employee then you may need to ask the Human resource department before you set up drapes inside your cubicle but if you are at the helm of running the place then you can easily make it a feature of the office and give an individual office cubicle more privacy.
While drapes won’t be as effective for cubicle soundproofing as a divider or a screen will be, they can still easily muffle any noises of average intensity.
What sets a soundproof drape apart from a regular drape is its thickness and type of fabric. Usually, one or two layers of some sound-absorbing fabric are sewn in between two layers of normal fabric and that is why these drapes tend to be quite heavy. Because of its soft surface as well as because of its thickness, it can deftly stop sound waves thus reducing the volume.
Seal the Gaps between the Cubicles
Considering that the cubicle dividers have been set up to soundproof it, and if the noise still seems to get through then chances are that the cubicle boards have not been set up properly and there are gaps in between. Check for those gaps and try to rearrange the boards in order to seal it.
If the gaps are gone, then it will stop the passage of air and with that, it will also stop the passage of sound waves.
Acoustic Panels on the Cubicle Walls
Yet another effective way to dampen the noise that passes between cubicles is to fit the walls with acoustic panels. This is especially needed for those work zones that need the employees to make multiple calls throughout the day.
This is why many call center cubicles are fitted with acoustic panels that not only control the sound but also improve the quality of the sound as heard by the person on the other side of the call.
These are easy to install and can be easily fitted inside the space. Acoustic panels are great at absorbing harsh noise and can also muffle impact noises that are caused when something hits on the shared wall of a cubicle from the other side.
However, since these panels go on top of the main cubicle wall surface, make sure that the initial space of the cubicle is large enough to accommodate the bulky panels without making the area cramped.
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Soundproof the Ceiling
A soundproof ceiling goes a long way in making an office space significantly less loud but most people tend to ignore the ceiling completely. Plain ceiling tiles can be replaced with acoustic tiles to reduce the transmission of sounds through the ceiling. But in case the ceiling in your office has a solid concrete structure then attaching ceiling tiles will not be a viable option.
What you can do instead is to attach soundproof panels to the ceiling as you did with the cubicle walls. You can use any strong double-sided tape to stick the panels to the ceiling.
You will be surprised to see how much of a difference a soundproof ceiling makes in an open-plan office space. Not only will it stop sounds from echoing but also stop the transmission of sounds within the space by a great deal.
Deal with the Floors
Like the ceiling, soundproofing the floor should also be considered when building an office for a business.
You cannot avoid or restrict the employees walking around the office for a number of reasons and most work spaces have a dress code where people need to wear formal shoes.
Rest assured, formal shoes make a tapping sound when it hits hardwood surfaces and floors with ceramic tiles. Needless to be pointed out but on any busy day, a dozen tapping shoes and their echoes are sure to cause a totally chaotic office.
You can do two things for noise reduction in this regard. Either cover up the floor with carpets or use commercial vinyl flooring. The first option is cheaper and can be chosen when a hard concrete floor already exists and cannot be altered without a major renovation.
Carpets, due to their soft surface, will kill any tapping sound and also help to block impact noises from things falling on the floor.
The second option is installing commercial-grade vinyl flooring all over the office. These look like wooden floors and are a good way to lessen the volume of any impact noises.
However, keep in mind that vinyl floors if not of very good quality may get damaged under heavy foot traffic.
So when you are buying it, make sure to mention to the seller that he should give sturdy commercial vinyl flooring with a long-lasting warranty.
Rearrange the Cubicles
This is effective for those offices that have multiple groups of people working on different kinds of stuff. Usually, departments that create and edit content are much quieter than departments that deal with accounts, customer relations, and such.
Thus regrouping the cubicles for the quieter departments and separating them from the louder groups will significantly reduce noise complaints, if there are any.
Another way to guarantee a quiet working atmosphere inside cubicles is to get a separate space for noisy equipment like printers and copiers.
While these are not technically soundproofing solutions, they will still help to reduce noise by a lot.
Design a Special Room for Focused Work
Now that we have discussed a comprehensive list of things you can do to reduce noise levels inside your cubicle, let us move on to some other methods to deal with the problem.
In an office, you cannot expect people to maintain total and complete silence like that in a library. But you can designate a separate room for special purposes.
Employees can enter that room when they have to take an important work-related call or when they have to really focus on something and getting distracted could prove disastrous.
Play White Noise in the Office
More than a method for cubicle soundproofing, this is more of a psychological trick to keep your brain occupied with the white noise while you ignore the other noises caused by humans or, let’s say a noisy copier.
There are many samples of hours worth of white noise available on the internet that you can play on a loop inside the office to keep the employed focused. If you are an employee you can do the same on personal earphones or headphones.
If the prospect of white noise does not seem appealing then here is another option for you- air purifiers. This machine keeps the air fresh and consistently makes a booting sound while doing so. The sound is low and discreet and can act as white noise for the office.
Get Sound-Absorbing Plants
You can do so for your cubicle given it has enough space for you as well as the plants or as an employer you can add these plants all over the office.
Large leafed plants like Ferns, Baby’s Tears, and Peace Lily all have been proven to absorb sounds to some extent. So adding these plants to office spaces will not only improve the quality of air but also result in noise reduction.
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By now you have probably already realized that completely soundproofing an office cubicle is next to impossible. It would be a different case altogether if it were a private office.
The change that can be brought about with these methods to soundproof an office can control and reduce the perceived noise but not completely stop it.
Some people are sensitive to sound and even a tiny bit of it is distracting for them. If you are one of these people then as a last resort you can play some white noise or elevator music in your headphones as you work.
However, the only downside to this is not being able to respond immediately when a co-worker or a superior calls for you.