Seventy percent of American employees work in open office plans, according to the International Facilities Management Association. Traditional cubicles are disappearing, employee lounge spaces are creeping over into workstations, and CEOs of major companies are ditching their private offices to hold impromptu meetings in hallways.

But as the number of open, collaborative spaces increases, so do the levels of noise, stress, and anxiety in our work environments. People waste 86 minutes every day because of sound distractions -- and interruptions happen about every 11 minutes. Open office plans save real estate footage and outfitting costs, but how can offices combat the resulting noise problem?

Advice for dealing with office noise often suggests soundscaping or having designated quiet spaces -- but what if that isn't enough? Another option businesses can consider is acoustic furniture.

Acoustic furniture is created with specific fabrics and size specifications to reduce noise, heighten privacy, and increase attention and focus. Employees who work in an acoustically comfortable environment produce higher-quality work and may take fewer sick days over the course of the year, since comfortable office acoustics lead to better health.

Here are five pieces of furniture that can be used in almost any open office plan. These pieces are available at a number of acoustic furniture makers, so companies should investigate which pieces are right for them.

Cocoon

The concept of cocoons is one of the smartest uses of space that we've seen recently. Employees can use cocoon hoods to take a phone call in a standing position or simply to think while blocking out sounds and foot traffic. The cocoon also reduces the need for break room space, which is helpful for businesses that lack the square footage for an employee lounge or that own multiple floors in an office building.

Acoustic Chairs

Acoustic chairs are perfect for a more casual business that may be limited on employee lounge space. Since this type of seating is fairly flexible, it can be moved around the office as more employees join the team. The furniture may also be suited for a casual reception area that is prone to a lot of entry hall noise or telephone calls.

From reception couches to meeting rooms, office walls to loft ceilings, manufacturers are introducing new acoustic concepts every week to meet growing demand. Consider whether acoustic furniture is part of the solution it needs.

Wall Flaps

Have you ever been in a group conference space where you could still hear everything outside? Wall flaps are the new wall art that can double as noise reduction. Made of sliced felt in different square or rectangular sizes and colors, these wall pieces insulate any room from sound. An employee can even pin various presentation items or brainstorming documents to the panels.

Wings

Wings are designed to partition a large space acoustically as well as optically, creating a quiet library or deep-work space. They are an affordable solution if a company wants to test how its open layout might operate with "walls." Attached to the ceiling at a 90-degree angle, wings also create an indirect light source, cutting down on computer screen glare and adjusting brightness throughout the workday.

Modular Panels

Modular acoustic panels can be set up in any open space to create a temporary (or permanent) soundproof area for meetings or collaboration. We suggest arranging them around a seating area or around your table and chairs for a "room within a room" effect.

Published on: Sep 19, 2016