French organization AFNOR’s new standard S 31-199 is a huge step toward reducing noise in open-plan offices. It helps companies improve the acoustic environment of shared spaces and increase workplace well-being.

In France as around the world, the open-plan office is becoming more and more popular. Millions of French workers now share their workplace with others. Many embrace this shift, but open offices do come with challenges. One of these is distracting sounds. In fact, noise is open-plan workers’ top complaint. The new French standard addresses this issue and seeks to reduce professionals’ exposure to unwanted noise. AFNOR is working directly with French businesses to create a better working environment for employees.

The organization analyzes office noises in terms of the type of work, individual teams, and the office as a whole. It also defines four main noise categories by activity. For each of these categories, AFNOR recommends an ideal noise level:

  • Phone calls: 48 to 52 dB
  • Collaborative work: 45 to 50 dB
  • Independent work with some conversation: 40 to 45 dB
  • Interaction with clients or the public: less than 55 dB


In addition to their analyses and recommendations, AFNOR provides concrete ways to implement their standard. They also provide tools and personal support to those hoping to examine and improve the dynamics of open-plan offices.

So far, the standard only applies to France. Organizations in several other countries are considering similar standards, though, and are working toward an international standard for open-plan workplaces. If an international standard is approved, countless daily lives could be improved around the world!