As a writer, I am used to spending my days pressing away at my keyboard within my office cubicle. I like mine; it offers me an independent working space away from most distractions…except for noise.
As someone who pens words down for a living, my mind is trained to pay full attention to the article at hand. I can only do this when there is 100% silence in my area. The absence of noise helps my mind wander to fascinating places and find the right words to put upon my page.
However, my current office cubicle does nothing to filter out the noise. I find it extremely challenging to give my work my best shot because the loud sounds make it hard for me to focus.
I have discussed this issue with friends and people around the office in an attempt to find a way to keep the noise at bay. One of my colleagues was kind enough to show me her own cubicle and introduced me to a brilliant concept: soundproofing!
Since then, I have been looking into ways to soundproof my cubicle. To save you the hassle of conducting as much research as I have, here’s an in-depth guide to help you with soundproofing your own office cubicle:
- What is Soundproofing?
- How to Soundproof Your Cubicle
- Communication with Peers
- Types of Noise
What is Soundproofing?
Soundproofing is when you make an enclosed space resistant to the passage of sound. You stop any sound from getting in and from going out.
Another problem I struggled with when working in my cubicle was having all the sound from inside reach the outside. If I ever had a conversation with a friend on the phone, everyone in my neighboring cubicles could hear, which is still a major source of concern for me.
It feels like a breach of privacy, and I’m adamant about stopping it with the help of the following soundproofing methods:
How to Soundproof Your Cubicle
Below is a list of methods you can follow to soundproof your cubicle:
- Soften Your Space
- Thick Fabric
- Blocking Nooks and Crannies
- Sound Absorbing Floors
- Acoustic Panels
- Hang Soundproof Curtains
- Room Dividers
- White Noise Machine
- Noise Cancelling Headphones
- Hang a Sign
1. Soften Your Space
One of the best ways to soundproof your room is by softening the space. Do so by placing soft elements into your work area.
- Potted plants
- Additional furniture items
Step 1: Consider the amount of space that exists within your room.
Step 2: Find empty places to fill up with things like plants, cushions, and small furniture items. Adding more things, especially softer elements like cushions and drapes will help your office space absorb the noise that’s entering it, as well as the noise that already exists within it. Matter absorbs sound waves, so the more matter you have, the less likely your area is to be noisy.
This is a similar trick as what is used to reduce echo. If you’ve noticed, empty spaces are more likely to resonate echo sounds than those that are filled with adequate materials.
You don’t need to overstuff your cubicle with more things than it needs. Clutter can be very distracting. However, do consider adding a few softer elements into your space to help with the sound.
If you feel like this method won’t suit you, try one of the other methods I’ve listed here.
2. Thick Fabric
Did you know that by applying thick fabric to your cubicle walls, you can effectively get them to absorb unwanted sound within the vicinity? However, remember that this method only works in low to middle noise level environments. So, if your office is particularly loud, applying thick fabric may not work as effectively as you’d like.
If you’d like to try it out, here’s how:
- Thick fabric with a heavy composition, like velvet
- Sticky fabric backing (attack to cloth beforehand)
Step 1: Remove the sticky backing from your cloth
Step 2: Attach the cloth to your cubicle’s wall or to furniture, making sure that the surface is clean
Remember to take permission from your boss before doing this, though. Many offices do not allow their employees to add personal ornaments. Also, keep in mind that the glue stains will have to be removed if the fabric is ever taken off.
Another way to go about this is to find suitable tapestries and hang them up on your walls. Your boss is more likely to accept this method than the one described above. Make sure you aim for thicker materials or tapestries with multiple layers.
The presence of more than one layer can help boost the item’s sound-absorbing ability. Hanging up pretty patterned materials in your space can also help you feel more creative and comfortable. Many people agree that awe-inspiring tapestries are one of the best things to have in your personal space!
3. Blocking Nooks and Crannies
Sound can seep through any open nooks and crannies that are present within your office space. I know a few people who have experienced this. They all felt much better after blocking such problem areas, noting that it has done plenty to reduce unwanted noise.
Step 1: Spot all the nooks and crannies within your office space
Step 2: Fill them in with acoustic caulk
Acoustic caulk is also known as a sealant and does a fine job of absorbing sound. It is used in large music theatres and recording rooms to ensure that no unwarranted sound makes its way into the enclosed space. This is one of the most surefire ways to ensure quietness within the area.
4. Sound Absorbing Floors
Did you know that hard flooring surfaces are more likely to allow sound to bounce off of them than softer ones? Carpets, for example, take in the sound waves instead of letting them move freely around the area.
- Soft, plush carpeting
- Commercial grade vinyl flooring
Step1: Choose a new flooring material
Step 2: Install it with professional help
Be sure to consult your boss for this one, too. Installing new flooring by yourself can lead to trouble in the workplace, so don’t decide by yourself till you’ve confirmed them with management!
If you can’t afford to cover the entire floor with a single carpet, consider investing in smaller rugs. Make sure that the rugs are large enough to cover most of your hard floor but can also be moved around as needed so that they remain non permanent, and you can remove them whenever management requires you to.
Commercial grade vinyl flooring comes in many fascinating designs (you can even find one that resembles a wooden floor pattern!) High-quality vinyl flooring can last you up to 30 years if taken care of and looks just as sophisticated as other types of flooring.
Vinyl flooring may look deadbeat pretty soon if it’s not cared for, though. Offices tend to have high foot traffic, so if you’re installing this type of flooring, be sure to do it within your own limited cubicle space (where few feet may tread) instead of demanding the entire office floor to adopt it.
5. Acoustic Panels
Acoustic panels are the perfect solution for those of us who work within open-plan cubicles. Acoustic panels do a fine job of absorbing excess noise coming from around the office. Music studios and clubs are known to have installed these panels to combat background noise.
- Acoustic panels
- Professional assistance for installation
Step 1: Measure out your office space and determine how much of it you want to cover in panels. Panels are expensive, so be sure to get an accurate value of how large your surfaces are to avoid buying excess product.
Step 2: Either ask a professional for help or do it yourself!
This is another one of those soundproofing ideas for which you’re going to need prior permission from management first. Luckily, these panels are easy to remove, which is why you’re more likely to be granted permission for installation.
6. Hang Soundproof Curtains
This is one of my favorites and something I plan on doing for my own cubicle. Soundproof curtains are a surefire way to eliminate noise. They may or may not be able to tackle 100% of unwanted sounds, but they sure are known for their ability to significantly reduce them.
- Soundproof curtains
- Curtain hangers/loops
Step 1: Install an overhead railing where you want to hang your curtains from. Try and make sure that your railing is positioned in a way that will enable your curtains to effectively wrap around your cubicle.
Step 2: Link your curtain to the hangers or loops
Step 3: Hang your curtain upon the railing
7. Room Dividers
If your office space is partially enclosed by dividers, consider raising them high enough to block off some of the sound. This idea works well for open plan cubicles and offices without designated workspace barriers.
- Room partition dividers
- Aluminum partitions
Step 1: Pick a room divider.
Step 2: If you’ve opted for the room partition divider, all you need to do is place it on the floor in a way that allows it to press against your existing divider, hence extending it.
If you’ve chosen the aluminum partitions, you’re going to have to invest time and effort into the installation. There are many tedious steps associated with this, but here’s a quick breakdown:
Both of these divider options cost a lot, which is why you need to think them through first. Aluminum dividers, in particular, are a massive investment. You’re going to want to reach out to office management for this one…
- Site measurement
- Placing the order
- Hiring help or finding tools for the job
- Completing the structure and installation
- Leveling the structure
- Securing door frames
- Cable management
- Placement of skins
- Installation of doors, if that’s the model you’re going for
8. White Noise Machine
This one’s pretty straightforward. If you feel like you’ve got too much-unwanted noise in the area, try covering it up with some pleasant noise that you might actually enjoy listening to. White noise sounds include rainfall, forest trees and wind, the seashore, and fire burning over old wood.
- White noise machine or app
Step 1: Set up the machine
Step 2: Choose a sound
Step 3: Play!
9. Noise Cancelling Headphones
Another easy solution; try investing in some heavy-duty noise-canceling headphones to keep unwanted sounds at bay. Noise reduction is one of the most practical solutions, in all honesty. It doesn’t require an exorbitant amount of money nor prior permission from management.
- Noise-canceling headphones
Step 1: Buy headphones
Step 2: Wear them! It’s that easy!
You can find suitable noise-canceling headsets from many brilliant companies. Bose, Sony and Apple AirPods Pro are popular examples. Be sure to search the market for a set that fits your head well and covers your ears fully.
Over Ear Headphones provide the best cubicle noise reduction, but for practical reasons AirPods or Bose’s In-Ear Headphones get the job done as well.
10. Hang a Sign
There’s no better way to let people know you mean business than by hanging up a sign that says it for you! “Do Not Disturb” signs give a direct message and help make sure that your need for silence is respected.
- Do Not Disturb sign
Step 1: Hammer a nail into a suitable spot on the outside of your cubicle wall
Step 2: Hang up the sign
Signs like this are inexpensive and available to everyone. You can find one at your local household wares shop for a dollar or two at most.
Communication with Peers
It’s important to let the people around you know when they’re making an unreasonable amount of noise. If you feel like your work and focus are being disturbed by the people around you, consider reaching out to them in a respectful manner. Once they see your calm approach, they’ll be more likely to consider what you’re trying to say.
You should also try talking to management about giving a talk on noise ethics within the workspace. If your colleagues can’t respect the need to keep noise to a minimum, especially when other people are working, something needs to be done.
You can also try to create dedicated “loud spaces” where people can go to have a chat. Again, you’re going to have to bring in office management to help you implement this plan, but if it works out, it might just be better than all the others.
The best thing about approaching people head on is that it’s free! Things like acoustic sealant and floorboards are expensive. Not many companies and offices will be willing to invest in such things unless it’s absolutely needed.
A better (and more affordable) way to tackle the situation is by creating loud spaces.
In a tie with these loud spaces, you’re going to have to let everyone know that the section of the office that’s laden with cubicles is a dedicated “quiet space.” This should help prevent them from being unreasonably loud around you while you work.
Types of Noise
In the office, we see two fundamental types of sound: airborne and structural.
1. Airborne noise
If you’re hearing noise that’s been transmitted to your ear through the air, it’s airborne. Music is a prime example of airborne noise.
Activities like playing music out loud or tapping away at a keyboard all produce airborne noise in the form of sound waves. These waves are charged with energy and are carried along through the air till they come into direct contact with your ear.
Airborne noise is extremely common in workspaces, be it the office or library. You can also find such noise when you’re busy tapping away at your keyboard at home. There really isn’t much escaping it. Luckily, you can take the measures listed above to reduce its effect, particularly in cases where this noise is coming from the outside.
2. Structural or structure-borne noise
This is any type of noise or sound that is produced when something makes a direct impact upon a structure. Dribbling a basketball over your floorboards is a prime example of structural noise.
Footsteps walking over the floor is another way in which structural noise is created. It is also one of the most common examples of this noise we see in office spaces.
When the object (like your shoe) comes into contact with an immovable object (like the floor or a wall), sound waves are generated. You may have noticed your colleagues knock at your cubicle walls. See how the sound travels right through, even though there’s a solid object between the two parties?
Structural noise can be a real pain for people who work in office cubicles. Luckily, there are ways to combat this, as discussed above.