Acoustic hacks for the home office

If there’s one thing working from home during the Covid-19 lockdown has taught many people, it’s not to take the good acoustics of the office for granted. Gina Stewart, WSP Senior Acoustics Engineer, provides some sound hacks that will make WFH less draining on the soul. 

Hacks for your home office

Children, animals, flatmates, neighbours, floorboards, cutlery.  All perfectly acceptable things until you’re in the perfect storm of trying to manage a work meeting from home.

It’s something many of us have only learnt the hard way in the last few weeks and, if it’s any consolation, it’s just as difficult for acoustics experts as anyone else. 

The thing about specialists like us is that if we do our jobs properly, you don’t even know. Remember that in an office environment, an acoustic engineer will have designed the floor plan to accommodate for sound travelling – there’s a reason why you won’t find video conferencing rooms next to the kitchen or breakout spaces.

The same goes for our work in education, where we design for optimum learning spaces with the least distractions or advise on noise reduction strategies on transport projects. 

My colleagues have written about the science of acoustic engineering and soundscaping, so if it’s of interest you can find more here

However, there’s a reason people who produce podcasts are huddling in their wardrobes at the moment.
If this is unappealing or impractical for your situation, read on.

At the time of writing this, I’m doing so from a barricaded room, trying to keep a distance from my children.

The curtains are closed, partly to create some absorption in the room, but primarily so my children don’t find me. I’d use the state-of-the-art headset that my workplace has provided me with, but that got broken in a toddler scuffle yesterday and I have yet to replace it so I am MacGyver-ing my environment to make up for my lack of technology.

Because of this, I’ve assembled some tips that may help create a better environment to work in. 

Acoustic hacks for the home office

Invest in a quality headset, this will make a huge difference – particularly to those who are listening to you, as the microphone will do a better job of picking up your voice.

Look at the space you’re in. Architecturally designed spaces look amazing, but they are often devoid of soft furnishings which absorb sound. If you’re in an area like this, try to add in some absorption, even a stack of towels on the counter will dampen the noise. A duvet or blanket can be draped over a chair next to you and will make a huge difference.

Get out of the kitchen! It makes sense to base yourself in the busiest part of the house, but kitchens have a heap of reflective surfaces that bounce noise around. Plus, if someone comes into the kitchen to make some food or a drink, your microphone will pick up the sound of cutlery and crockery like you wouldn’t believe. 

I’ve seen photos of families working together, home-working parents alongside home-schooling children. Again, this will affect your call quality – and likely your nerves – as the sound of the person next to you banging away at a keyboard will be picked up. While this situation is best avoided for an important conference call, the reality is you may need to put up with it for the majority of the time, so dialling down the sensitivity of your microphone in your computer settings will help avoid the background noise cutting through quite so much.

Be wary of working in large spaces. If the area is too big you’ll get an echo. 

Mic placement is important, close enough, but out of your breathing airflow, I like to put my headset mic in front of my nose rather than my mouth.

Even a bit of awareness brought to bear on this will make a difference. Taking yourself into a quieter space for a call will make for a far less stressful meeting. 
WSP Acoustic Services

Gina Stewart

Gina has 6 years’ experience in acoustics both in NZ and Australia, as well as experience in mechanical engineering, training and education. Gina brings her enthusiasm for the practical design and implementation of acoustic treatments along with an appreciation for beautiful architectural design.
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