Why offices will be noisier in the future and how plants can help

  • Noise is one of the most common complaints by employees working in corporate office environments

  • Shared office spaces will likely get noisier due to the frequent use of video calls

  • Plants can be used to lower noise levels since they absorb, reflect and deflect sound waves

A noisy office space is not ideal for a productive working environment. Annoying and disturbing noises, as well as involuntarily overheard conversations and phone calls, can quickly reduce the concentration and performance, which you might be familiar with.

Will offices become less noisy since more people work remotely in the future?

Contrary to what one would intuitively expect, we believe that office spaces' noise levels will most likely even increase. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, employees were used to phone booths and meeting rooms to conduct calls. In the future, we anticipate that

  1. office employees will more often rely on video and phone calls than physical meetings (less travelling, higher efficiency, etc.),

  2. phone booths and meeting rooms will be occupied more frequently and

  3. employees who do not get a separate room will conduct calls directly on their workstations.

These increased levels of sound (noise) will be distracting, cause stress, make employees less productive and limit their privacy. Therefore, the set-up of future working environments needs to be revisited by, e.g., adding more enclosed workplaces like phone booths and more acoustic solutions to reduce noise levels in open spaces.

How plants can help with noise attenuation?

Plants have many advantages for their surroundings and people who work around them. Noise reduction is one of their less-known benefits. Yet, plants are already widely used to reduce noise in areas we are familiar with. Among others, a well-known example is planting trees along streets, which helps to reduce noise pollution in neighbouring communities. However, indoor plants are also of great acoustical benefits within built environments. Evidence suggests for example that large Palms placed in room corners to the rear of the seating position can be as effective as OEM acoustic foams in acoustics treatment and/or soundproofing.

Figure 1: Noise attenuation with plants

Scientific studies in anechoic and reverberation chambers have demonstrated a detectable influence of a variety of indoor plant species on the noise field (200-10k Hz), with different plant compartments contributing to both absorption (sound refraction) and diffusion (sound reflection) attenuating phenomena. Given the experimental results published in the literature (Figure 1), it is notable that the canopy of vegetation has a significant role in attenuating the sound pressure field, at least in the frequency range between 200 Hz and 10k Hz. In particular, the influence of leaves, stems, and twigs increases with increasing frequency. It is, however, worth noting that plant canopy can act as an amplifier in the mid-frequencies (e.g., 200 Hz to 1k Hz for tropical plants), which could be utilized to mitigate communication difficulties.

Thanks to in-house sound field simulation algorithms incorporating plants’ acoustical properties, Oxygen at Work aims to foster the implementation of natural plants as a sustainable and viable solution to soundproofing and acoustic treatment indoors. Oxygen at Work’s proprietary green acoustic tool offers tailored greenery design solutions improving office’s acoustic environment as well as brightening up the indoor environment and boosting the quality and performance in the working life.