Workplace design has the power to help or hinder productivity. One main facet of this is workplace acoustics. The chatter of conversations, typing of keyboards, and clicking of pens can distract employees and ultimately decrease their productivity. Studies have shown that once an employee is distracted, it can take up to 20 minutes for them to fully regain their concentration. A distracted employee is also more likely to make an error while working.

So in the day and age of open offices encouraging employees to interact more, we are deemed with the task of mitigating these negative side effects. The solution to this lies in the ABCs: absorb, block, and cover sounds.

Open offices often occupy large rooms with hard surfaces for walls, such as brick, glass, or cement. Sounds reverberate and echo off these materials, requiring softer materials to counteract these hard ones. This could come in the form of rubber flooring, carpet, or ceiling tiles. These materials absorb any noise pollutants and diminish the negative side effects of an open office.

Wall partitions can also be used to block sounds. Open office spaces are perfect for increasing employee interaction and cooperation, but wall partitions can create that necessary private, quiet space for a distraction-free zone. Altos, Optos, and Focus are all architectural glass wall systems that allow for the customization of offices to facilitate acoustics and design.

To cover the noise, air conditioners, heaters, or sound systems will all do the trick. The Lencore White Noise System achieves speech privacy via a spectrum of ambient background noise which masks conversation, keyboard clicking, and other distractions. This white noise combines every frequency of sound, much like the color white combines every shade of the rainbow, to create a symphony of sounds that make it impossible to be distracted by any other audible sound.

Stéphane Pigeon, an engineer of natural soundscapes, travels the world collecting new sounds like waterfalls, wind blowing, or insects (yes, such a job does exist). In doing this, Pigeon is designing white noise out of natural phenomenon with the goal of reducing stress, increasing focus, and improving learning.

So keep the open office design, but remember the final touch: workplace acoustics. No one wants to listen to your clicking pen or chatter about what you made for dinner last night while they’re trying to fill out an expense report.