Quiet but not too quiet: the acoustics of the office work pod explained

Noise is the #1 complaint heard in open offices. No pun intended. Companies like ours — with teams who seek to enact effective office design — have been studying the issue since it became quickly apparent following the boom of ‘open.’

Solutions like soundproofing room dividers, panels, baffles, tiles, and even paint now populate the market with a promise to deliver blessed quiet. The office pod is perhaps the most renowned solution of them all. At its essence, it’s an acoustic pod that blocks the noise both ways, restoring privacy and focus.

And the pod is a competent fix. It gives employees control where chaos and stimuli once held the reigns. These soundproof cabins are compact, mobile, and attractive, and can be expanded to accommodate a growing team. And they are so much more sophisticated than simple, quiet cubes for quiet work. There is brilliant engineering behind the soundproofing technology within a quality work pod. Here’s how it works.

First and foremost, absolute silence is a bad thing 

There is a common misconception that the objective of soundproofing an office is total silence. But absolute silence is actually unhealthy, jarring, and destructive for human beings. Especially in a privacy booth or pod.

Consider silence in an open office space, first. Imagine that your team has sound-dampened the entire room and achieved actual silence through sound-masking room dividers, soundproof paint, and numerous other office noise reduction solutions. How uncomfortable might it be to chat even quietly with a colleague, knowing your words are technically within earshot of everyone within the space? Or how frustrating it would be not to be able to talk out loud freely as you think something through? It is conceivable that even typing would be problematic. The hyper-awareness of the noise one creates in a silent environment makes them self-conscious. 

The Sound Agency is a team of acoustics experts that recognize this role sound plays in how we think, feel, and act. They dispel the misconception — that total silence is the goal, “In a room full of 60 to 70 people which is open plan and absolutely quiet, it’s very intimidating to make a phone call. And if you do so, you’re upsetting about 15 to 20 people because they’re put off by your phone call.”

Now consider the reality of working alone in a totally silent privacy pod. Let’s use the anechoic chamber as a reference for this kind of environment — it’s a room designed to absorb ALL sound waves and is often referred to as one of Earth’s quietest places. Working in one might sound like a dream come true for someone who is sidetracked by office noise all day long. But it is actually quite a nightmare — literally. Rumor has it that the longest anyone has been able to sit in an anechoic chamber is only 45 minutes because the experience of true silence is fundamentally uncomfortable if not untethering. 

Ambiance within the office work pod 

The goal of the soundproofing technology within a work pod is, therefore, a bit more nuanced than ‘eliminate all office noise.’ With Hush’s acoustic pod series, and with any reputable sound-masking work booth, the goal is to provide relative ambiance

In science terms, ambiance is the decibel range of background or office noise within which employees can comfortably tune into their work. No decibel is loud enough to fracture their focus, but there is enough sound around them to prevent them from feeling hyper-self-conscious. Because in human terms, ambiance can best be described as a light, delightful, or calming muffle. So when it comes to the soundproof work pod, what ambiance looks like is: anyone working within it (a traditional, fully closed pod) can hear only muffled sounds from the outside office space. And people in the office space can’t pick up on conversations inside of the pod. 

So when we consider the ABC method of managing office noise (Absorb, Block, and/or Cover sound), we must remember that our goal is to provide each employee with their ideal acoustic environment — i.e., their version of ambiance.

The reality: we have different ideas of ‘ambience’ or ideal acoustics 

This introduces an important point: we all have a slightly different idea of what acoustic ‘ambiance’ is. Or, more simply, each of us is affected differently by noise, and thus each of us has different preferences regarding what noise level is ideal for working. Not to mention, different acoustic atmospheres support different work task types. And our day’s array of tasks is dynamic.

This begins to illustrate another strong reason why multi-function, activity-based office design is competent. A dynamic and flexible office space fitted with a variety of work environments caters to varying needs and preferences because each work environment within it engenders a different type of acoustic ambiance. This variety gives employees choice over more aspects of their work environment down to the sound around them. Of course, pods of different sizes — from privacy pods to meeting pods to conference pods — will produce slightly different acoustic characters, facilitating this variety of acoustic environments. 

So if you’re considering bringing work pods in as part and parcel of your office acoustics plan, explore mixing totally-closed pods with partially-open pods to create an array of acoustic atmospheres. 


Take our as a model. Partially open work pods like the are designed to allow some of the office’s energy (heat, sound, and light) to flow through it. It’s a pod for the type who prefers to be surrounded by a bit of hustle-and-bustle at all times.

Ambiance delivered by design, down to the details 

Hush is designed to deliver a target level of sound that is healthy for us and ideal for working. Each pod is built relatively small to achieve optimal acoustics. And it’s important to note that with any well-designed and well-made pod, the promise of ‘soundproofed’ is carried through subtle but critical design features. Because sound is like water, it wants to flow — any quality soundproofing product will be built to absorb, block, or cover this flow, preventing it from seeping in an undesirable way.


The real sell: pods give everyone control over office noise

Pods work because they give both office managers and employees control over the noise around them — both others’ and their own. And with an array of ideal workspaces (each with distinct acoustics), employees have the freedom to move throughout their day. They can set their ideal conditions in each pod as they do, plugging in their music and adjusting both ventilation and lighting until it’s ‘just right.’ This control equates to autonomy, and we note that autonomy is an essential factor in job satisfaction and engagement. Work pods simply afford it through their smart design and versatility.