The ABCs’ of Managing Noise in Open Office Plans

The ABCs’ of Managing Noise in Open Office Plans

Think Pink (Noise) + the ABCs of Managing Noise in Open Office Plans

With nearly 80% of American office employees working in open plan environments, sometimes it feels like it’s impossible to block out unwanted noise in the office. Sound familiar?


Sorry for shouting in ALL CAPS, but in order to feel effective at work 75% of employees report that they need to have noise levels in the workplace managed. According to a recent Leesman Index, only 30% of employees are satisfied with the noise levels in their workplace currently. That leaves nearly half – some 45% of employees – feeling unproductive and ineffective because of unwanted noise in the office.

 Noise at Work Infographic

Managing Noise in the Office is Simple as ABC

A new infographic published by Knoll, Inc. illustrates the ABCs of reducing noise in an open office plan:

  • ABSORB: Selecting the right materials in décor (from drapes to panels and from screen dividers to plant walls) can help minimize noise by absorbing sound.
  • BLOCK: Separating functional teams and creating areas that encourage conversations can help to manage noise by avoidance.
  • COVER: Masking noise with sound-generating equipment (like those than can produce pink noise) can help moderate unwanted noise. Pink noise can even help with worker productivity and comfort when an office is perceived as being too quiet!

What Exactly is Pink Noise?

You’re probably familiar with the concept of white noise. White noise works by masking changes in sound and thus allowing our brains the benefit of a more consistent sonic environment. That can be great for sleeping because the brain isn’t interrupted by unexpected noise.

But white noise is not the only sonic hue. Sound has many colors and recent studies show the varying benefits of pink, brown, blue and gray noise – all which impact listeners in different ways.

White noise sounds like a radio tuned to an unused frequency. It’s similar to the way that white light contains all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum at equal intensity. White noise has equal power across all frequencies audible to the human ear.

Pink noise is a type of white noise, but with reduced higher frequencies. It resembles the sounds of steady rainfall or wind, which is typically considered more soothing than white noise. Pink noise also sounds less harsh than white noise because humans don’t hear linearly; we hear in octaves. And we’re far more sensitive to higher frequencies (like the frequency of a crying baby – yikes!).

White noise, which has the same intensity at even the highest tones, can often sound way too bright or too harsh to our ears. The energy in pink noise drops off by half as the frequency doubles, so every octave has equal power, which sounds more balanced and pleasing to the human ear.

Pink noise is even implemented in open office layouts where there’s a perception of the office being “too quiet” because workers feel more satisfied – and therefore more productive – when there’s the presence of some level of comforting sound.


Want to bring a sound design into your open office plan? Contact Miller’s office design experts to help you adapt the ABCs of noise management for your specific office needs.

Miller's Business Interiors

Written by Miller's Business Interiors

Headquartered in Virginia, and also supporting the larger Washington DC area, Miller’s Business Interiors provides the design, space planning, project management and furniture you need to create a stylish, productive and comfortable environment. From humble beginnings in 1971 to nationwide coverage offered today, we support you with a dedicated and experienced team, flexible solutions and personalized attention that ensures you’ll feel like our only customer.

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