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  • Alice Hsieh

How to reduce the noise in your work from home environment

Updated: Apr 30

After I changed my profile status to Stop sending me Coronavirus memes, a good friend from Brazil insisted that I listen to a WhatsApp audio. She said, 'It is hilarious.' I wondered if she read my status or if I should remind her of it, but in praise of asking people to be more tolerant and humane in this unprecedented time of global crisis, I surrendered and clicked on PLAY. I couldn't stop laughing.

There was nothing unusual in the audio apart from the funny accent of a woman complaining about her working-from-home husband. Now, the kids cannot shout, kids cannot cry, and the television volume should be turned down.

For those who can only concentrate in a quiet environment, working with the entire family in lockdown can be quite hard. Conversely, it can also be difficult for other members of the household. After all, not everyone is happy to constrain the freedom to make noise.

There are simple ways to minimise the acoustic problems you may experience by suddenly having to work from home. I will share some tips on tackling the issues, all of which are within reach of what you have at home.

First of all, understand that the sound is a wave.

When it hits on a hard and flat surface, it will bounce.

When it hits a soft or porous material, it will dissipate.

Secondly, understand the difference between Acoustic Insulation and Acoustic Absorption. Both have different purposes.

To separate your room from the noise generation source, you have to provide efficient Acoustic Insulation. In the same way, you protect yourself from the cold by insulating your room, and you do so for the noise so the 'airborne sound' does not penetrate. If you have gaps or cracks around the window when closed, you will still hear the noise from outside. The sound wave will find its way in.

Acoustic Absorption is applied not to ensure insulation or separation but to reduce the noise level, to describe it more simply.

You usually find the space loud if you have been in an indoor swimming pool. You can hear the splash of each stroke (outside of water, of course) or loud and echoing cheers. This is because its walls, floor and ceiling are made of flat and hard surfaces, reflecting all the noises altogether. On the other hand, a sound recording studio has the wall covered with foam panels so the sound waves can dissipate when they hit the wall. The foam panels are used as acoustic absorbent.

What follows are some 'lockdown at home' scenarios.


Working in the same room as several sources of noise generation, a technical term here for your kids, tv or someone in the open plan kitchen doing something.

Strategy: Acoustic Absorption

Keys for acoustic plan

Room layout without strategy

Representation of sound wave direction reflecting to adjacent room

Room layout with strategy

Room plan  showing the noise source generation with acoustic absorption strategy

Cover the flat and hard surfaces of the room with absorbent materials:

  • Add carpets or throws in the room

  • Hang tapestry, rug or any artwork on the wall

  • Spread some cushions around

  • Draw up your fabric curtains

If you have timber, plastic, or metal blinds, draw them to cover as much of the glazed window surface as possible, though with the fins half-open, at an angle, to allow the sound wave to bounce in.

If the window opens to a quiet garden, leave it open, then the noise can escape.

Consider these temporary measures, and do not overlook the trip hazards and fire risks that the objects you add can cause.


Working next to the room where the source of noise generation is.

Strategy: Both Acoustic Insulation and Acoustic Absorption.

Ensure the room where the noise source is coming from has the Acoustic Absorption strategy in place (recommended in SCENARIO 1) so the sounds do not travel through the walls to your room.

Keys for acoustic plan

Room layout with acoustic absorption and insulation

Acoustic insulation strategy plan

Second, improve your airborne sound insulation between rooms by sealing all the gaps. Use the same tricks as you would to keep cold air from coming through windows and doors:

  • Use the draft stopper at the door base.

  • Apply foam tape or weatherstrip around the door.

Acoustic tapes

These recommendations will certainly eliminate some annoyance, although they are far from providing the desired silence of a library. Still, small improvements do change the quality of the work environment without having to do any building work. They are also common sense tricks, as I concluded after years of working on schools and hospital projects in the UK. Working alongside acousticians from Arup, Buro Happold, and Cundall, plus several of the top engineering companies in the country, I could ponder the level of difficulties. For example, the regulation for the construction of new schools is probably the most stringent regarding acoustics compared to other building types like hotels, offices and even housing. If you live in a new building, you might question why you live in paper-thin walls and have the displeasure of hearing your neighbours talking to each other or worse. Construction failures in housing development are extensively technical for this blog post. However, that can be a new topic for another day.


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