I recently read an article about Office Soundproofing for the Covid-19 Era entitled The Acoustic Challenge of the Post COVID 19 Office. It provides some interesting insights into how offices workers will do their jobs differently post -COVID compared to pre-COVID and the implications regarding acoustic treatments needed. Additionally, it describes some innovative acoustical treatment material that architects, and designers are incorporating into new office space design. What it made me think about was how well current office spaces will work when knowledge workers return post COVID.  And if the office space does not work very well, what office managers can do.

What are some Office Soundproofing Solutions for the Covid-19 Era?

In the recent past, open offices surrounded on the periphery by private offices (with a door) and conference rooms (with a door) were the office space design norm. Many workers who have private offices engage in confidential conversations not meant for others to hear. The most common way to ensure that confidential private office conversations remained confidential was to close the office door and install a whole office sound masking system using white noise (learn about white noise here) in the open office space (not the private offices). The purpose was to raise office background noise levels in order to decrease both accidental and deliberate eavesdropping by workers in the open office space. For those in private offices, the white noise raised the background noise in the open office space and effectively drown out any conversations happening behind closed doors. Private office workers had private conversations in their private office spaces. Life was good. 

Office Soundproofing for the Covid-19 Era changed everything. When the pandemic struck, many offices closed, and employees worked from home. They conducted much of their business in virtual meetings using tools like Zoom, WebEx, and MS Teams.  These communication tools have become ubiquitous because businesses have found that virtual meetings are effective and more efficient than face to face communication. My hypothesis is that when offices reopen, office workers will continue to meet virtually.

Office Floorplan indicating where  ceiling overlays will be installed

Office Floorplan indicating where ceiling overlays will be installed

Why Is Office Soundproofing For The Covid-19 Era Important?

What impact will Office Soundproofing for the Covid-19 Era have on office productivity?  Imagine an open office space full of workers conducting Live stream video conversations from all points in the work environment. Sensitive computer microphones send out both wanted and unwanted sound signals that are received, amplified, and broadcast out of audio speakers. Video conversations are often louder due to this “set and forget” hands-free technology increasing the demand for acoustic control beyond what noise-cancelling headphones and headset microphones can provide. Traditional levels of sound masking (white noise) may now be found to be highly counterproductive to speech intelligibility. Reverberation times within open office areas may be found to now be too high to effectively support the new acoustical requirements of the workspace. With multiple virtual meetings in progress at the same time, some lasting for hours, and sound masking systems adding white noise into the mix, the overall office sound level will increase significantly. And as workers struggle to hear conversations, they will raise their voices. The formerly quiet open office space (pre COVID) may become a noisy mess. It may sound like a call center to the listener on the other end of the conversation.

Now add one more COVID related factor. Returning workers will probably be wearing face masks. So, at a time when there is an increased demand for improved speech intelligibility, the face masks will get in the way. Specifically, the face masks will reduce high-frequency speech which is important for hearing sounds like “s,” “f,” and “th”. Added to that is the fact that face masks block the visual cues typically received during a conversation by the listener.

All these factors when combined will reduce the overall effectiveness of open office virtual meetings. How will office workers react? They will probably retreat to private conference rooms or revert to “in person” meetings again. This is not an outcome that office managers want as they come back to work.

Examples Of Office Soundproofing for the Covid-19 Era

For private office space and conference rooms, confidentiality is critical. Office Soundproofing for the Covid-19 Era requires us to isolate Private Offices/Conference Rooms with a Ceiling Overlay System. Basically, build a cocoon around these spaces to keep speech from escaping or entering through the drop tile ceiling and lighting fixtures into neighboring areas.

For open office spaces, adjust sound masking (white noise) system to a lower dBa level to make up for the losses in speech intelligibility. If reverberation times within open office area needs to be reduced, the addition of acoustical wall panels and/or ceiling panels with an NRC of .85 or higher is recommended. See our article Taming Office Noise.

Office Floorplan indicating where  acoustical wall paneling will be installed

Office Floorplan indicating where acoustical wall paneling will be installed

To learn more about how Acoustical Solutions can solve your noise control problems, use our contact form, call one of our Acoustical Sales Consultants at (800) 782-5742, or visit us on the web at