As a cost-effective and collaborative option, the open-plan office has become a major attraction for businesses, but if not planned correctly, can cause significant issues according to experts.

A recent study from Berkeley University in California found noise was the number one annoyance for 62 per cent of office workers.

UK-based member of the Institute of Acoustics Colin Rawlings said a poorly planned office could result in a significant decrease in staff productivity.

Rawlings said there were 15 to 20 per cent more people in the same space today compared with 10 years ago, but said it was possible to have an office that was aesthetic and acoustically well-planned.


"Open plan is here to stay because it's the most cost-effective way of getting the number of staff into a space," Rawlings said.

"If it's done properly it works well because you get more collaboration but it does have to be well planned."

Rawlings, who is also the technical director of UK firm Acoustics By Design, was in New Zealand last month with Kiwi company, Haworth by Europlan, in conjunction with Orangebox UK, giving seminars and advising companies on their work spaces.

Although open-plan was becoming extremely popular, Rawlings said aesthetics were often put ahead of acoustics with plans including lots of wood and glass and high ceilings which then echoed and ended up being distracting and noisy for staff.

A move towards agile working and having breakout spaces in offices was resolving this issue but Rawlings said there were other things that could be done to improve open-plan office use.

"The prediction is that by 2020 we're going to have four generations of staff working, and people of different ages work in different ways and want different things out of their office," Rawlings said.

"You have to have the different spaces for people to work but you also have to train and teach them to use those spaces so they're productive and aren't disturbing other people," he said.

Top Tips
• Plan the office with a space planner and in consultation with staff
• Create breakout spaces from private to semi-private to cater for different uses
• Use desk-dividing screens in between rows of desks to reduce the distance sound can travel
• Avoid big, open ceilings made of concrete, wood or glass and use suspended ceilings to avoid echoing
• Use acoustic tiles where necessary
• Consider sound-masking systems with white noise or pink noise which artificially raises background sound level