Flexible working means we’re just as likely to take Zoom calls and fill out spreadsheets from a home office, just as we are going to meetings and chatting with colleagues over the coffee machine in our employer’s office. But how do we prevent family life – with all its noises and disturbances – from interrupting us?
While the coronavirus has many of us turning to working from home more often, our office setups have often not kept up with the change in circumstances. We spoke to interior designers, noise experts, and researchers to find out how to soundproof a home office so you can work in peace. And just as important, how to stop annoying Zoom calls from leaking out of our office and disturbing the rest of the family.
When we can stay focused and productive, we can get the job done and get back to family life faster. Ready, Steady, Zoom…
Why do we need calm to work well at home
There are many ways noise can bother us when we work from home, whether you have a dedicated home office or make the most of a smart little home office idea in a closet. A quick survey of the Idealhome.co.uk team (a mix of hybrid and remote workers) showed that noisy neighbours, family life, traffic noise, construction work and the sound of the TV or radio can all interrupt us.
Researchers Dr. Francesco Aletta and Dr. Simone Torresen looked at the impact of historical (Covid lockdown), situational (family members, roommates) and spatial (urban areas and building structure) factors on productivity, focus and mood when working from home.
“Quietness and the absence of intrusive noise are key to a sound environment that allows concentration and is conducive to work,” they say.
The people in their study used different coping strategies to block out unwanted noise, including closing doors and windows, turning on the TV, or using noise-cancelling headphones.
If you really need soundproofing in the bedroom, you’ll already know that sometimes these adaptation options don’t work to dampen the sound. Fortunately, your home office decor can be your best friend to help create a calm work environment. We spoke to interior designers and experts who shared their best design solutions for soundproofing our home offices and making them better places to work. It will look better too. Now that’s the kind of work reward we can get…
1. Soundproof windows
You got up, closed the windows and locked the door, but the noise from outside still interrupted your train of thought. Look familiar? Maybe it’s time to upgrade your window glass.
“Glass and doors are essential elements when trying to control unwanted noise from inside and outside your home. Invest in window and door systems,” says Poppy Szkiler, CEO and founder of Quiet Mark, which tests and evaluates products that reduce unwanted noise in the home. With outstanding audio performance for the best results.
“If your study has a window overlooking a bustling street, you should definitely consider secondary glazing,” suggests Lucinda Griffiths, founder of Lucinda Griffith Design. “Although lined curtains will help, they won’t make a difference to daytime hours when they are open and the glass is leaking noise into the room.”
2. Insulate the walls to prevent sound
Not only does a bookcase make a great Zoom background, but it can also help soundproof your home office as well. Any home office storage idea extended against the wall will help do the trick.
“Bookcases filled with books will act as a sound barrier,” asserts interior designer Lucinda Griffith. “The luxury option is fabric walls, with padded support behind the fabric.
“If you’re renovating your space, consider using acoustic gypsum boards for your walls. “This will make a big difference in soundproofing your room from the rest of the house,” Lucinda continues.
This can be especially useful if your home office is next to a high-traffic area of your home, such as the kitchen, or a high-traffic area such as a hallway
“To ensure minimal disturbance if your home office is located next to a high-activity area such as a living room, you may want to consider adding additional layers of gypsum board, acoustical studs and mineral wool insulation to the interior and partition walls and floors.” says Poppy Szkiler of Quiet Mark.
3. Soften the sound coming from hard floors
Have you ever wondered why your voice sounds choppy after a long day of Zoom calls at home? “Hard surfaces such as tiled floors, large areas of painted plasterboard and windows can cause reverberation, which is when sound is amplified as it reflects back into the room. This can reduce our ability to hold conversations and increase sound pressure,” explains Bobby Szkeller.
“Sound-absorbing finishes can help create a quieter home environment. This can come in the form of rugs, fabric wall hangings, and rugs, which can help reduce echo, especially when combined,” says Bobby.
“I’d avoid a hardwood floor surface in the home office but opt for a rug with an underlay to help absorb sound instead,” says Lucinda Griffith.
4. Close the gap at the bottom of the doors
Sound leaking in and out of the home office from the gap around the door is a common problem. The easiest solution is to install a strip of cling-foam insulation around the door frame, available on Amazon, in the same way you would repair a drafty door.
“Assuming your door is sturdy (which it is a must if it’s soundproof), look at how the door fits within its frame,” advises Lucinda Griffiths. “Adding sealant around the edges will not only help with your heating bill, but it will also muffle any noise creeping through those gaps.”
For extra sparkle, why not cover the inside of the door with insulating padding, covered in fabric, and held in place with screws? This will give your office the atmosphere of a private members club, while minimizing sound leakage into the space.
5. Invest in quiet electrical equipment
The noise of fans, computers, heaters, printers and any other electrical appliances will create a “soundscape” for your home office. The higher the background noise level, the more volume will need to be increased in other areas, such as the volume of phone and video calls.
“Now that remote work is the new normal for many of us, we need to make sure our work environment is efficient and effective — a place that allows us to be our best selves at work,” says Poppy Szkiler of Quiet Mark. The organization has an online guide that provides an overview of the quietest devices currently available, including desk fans, acoustic office furniture, acoustic flooring, curtains, and acoustic wall coverings.
“When Quiet Mark tests or verifies home appliances, we take into account a variety of factors including sound quality. The way a product looks can make or break your space,” explains Bobby. “Two appliances can have the same level of Decibel, but either one can make an annoying rattling sound, in which case, we rule it out.”
Walls, floors, doors and windows were sorted, carpets and soft curtains were put in place, and quiet tools were delivered. It’s time to work.