How to Maintain Speech Privacy in Open and Closed Office Spaces
The message is loud and clear: office employees cite the intrusion of unwanted noise as a leading factor in workplace dissatisfaction,
reduced effectiveness, and higher stress.
Unwanted noise typically relates to “speech privacy”, in which employees overhear loud, unwanted conversations from other
people sharing the same environment. One study found that 75% of office workers are unhappy with the lack of speech privacy
in their workplace.
Choosing the Right Ceiling to Maintain Speech Privacy
Maintaining speech privacy is dependent on good acoustical design and the proper selection of interior systems and materials.
The proper choice of a ceiling can serve to both limit the sound intrusion between spaces and affect the quality of sound within a space. The ceiling, then, is a key element in creating an acoustical environment that
can maintain speech privacy.
When selecting ceilings for open office plans, the use of the same acoustical ceiling throughout the entire space is not always
the best choice. That’s because in terms of speech privacy, there is a significant difference in the acoustical requirements
of ceilings used in open spaces and those used in closed spaces. As a result, different areas require different ceilings.
Open Plan Areas
In open plan spaces, the main function of the ceiling is to absorb sound that would normally bounce off the ceiling into a
nearby space or cubicle. For speech privacy, an acoustical ceiling with an NRC of 0.80 or higher is the best choice.
Always base your product selection on ceilings with UL-classified acoustical performance. This will ensure that the ceiling
meets or exceeds published values.
Open Plan Ceilings for Offices/Conference Rooms
Closed Plan Areas
In closed spaces, the main function of the ceiling is to limit the transmission of sound between adjacent rooms, especially
when these spaces share a common ceiling plenum.
For speech privacy, use a mineral fiber ceiling that is installed continuously across the ceiling plane, and combines moderate
sound absorption (NRC 0.60 to 0.70) with good ceiling attenuation (minimum CAC 35, with CAC 40 preferred).
Closed Plan Ceilings for Offices
Exposed Structure Areas (“Warehouse-Style” Designs)
Exposed structure designs can cause noise problems because sound reflecting off the roof deck results in excessive reverberation.
In addition, if the exposed roof deck is less than 15 feet high, reflections between adjacent open plan cubicles can cause
distractions for nearby occupants.
Many noise issues related to exposed structure designs can be addressed through the use of acoustical ceiling clouds, canopies,
blades, or baffles. Designed for use in either new construction or retrofit applications, these design elements are an ideal
way to define spaces in exposed structure areas and enhance acoustics without sacrificing design flexibility.
For more information on office acoustics and the recommended ceilings for open and closed plan office spaces, read the full