“The best places to work have considered all aspects of the environment – looks alone won’t help your staff be more productive or feel great”.
- Colin Rawlings, Technical Director, Acoustics by Design
Acoustic office design is one of the biggest challenges facing employers. According to a 2008 study by Schwede et al, noise is the number one problem in the office. This problem is a consequence of the modern open plan office, but is not one that should be feared my employers. It can be overcome with clever spatial design and furniture solutions to create an environment with optimal noise levels.
According to Colin, the optimal sound level to work in is 35-40 dBA (weighted decibels). For comparison, a whisper is around 35 and a normal conversation can reach 60 dBA. Not all of us want to work in silence, yet none of us want to work in constant noise, so it’s about providing the right sound environment to ensure the best levels of productivity and wellbeing. It takes an average of 15 minutes to regain concentration after being distracted from a difficult task by unwanted noise.
Acoustic office challenges are partly the result of the rise of open plan office in the past few decades. Earlier this year we wrote about the evolution of the desk, and the transition from open plan to agile workplaces, and acoustic considerations is a key part of this transformation. Yet, for many open plan environments are still the norm for many workers. In America alone 70% of employees work in open plan offices.
Recent research carried out in Australia has shown that the current trend towards hot-desking, combined with open-plan offices, is making employees more antisocial and increase feelings of anxiety. Common complaints with open plan design include a lack of privacy and noise levels that don’t allow adequate focus. Office redesign projects should take into consideration opportunities for employees to work collaboratively, as well as allowing for spontaneous conversation and private reflection. Our features of the modern workplace interactive visual indicates the different spatial zones we utilise here at Blue Jelly.
Not all of us work in the same way and employers need to recognise this by offering different ways of working. These solutions allow for activity-based work, reducing distractions when you don’t need them and allowing for collaboration when you need interaction.
Many employers may want to focus on aesthetic effect their office gives, but design must also consider sound management. The first step in reducing sound levels is to understand where they are being generated from. Sound paths can be direct, reflected, diffracted and transmitted.
Source: Acoustics By Design
Masking these sounds involves a combination of screening noise, blocking its path and covering it. All aspects that can be controlled with acoustic office solutions.
In 2016 we completed workplace rejuvenation for Firmenich offices.
This furniture solution allows for partial screening for non-confidential gatherings, creating a haven away from their colleagues working at desks, but without the employees feeling ‘boxed in’.
Acoustic furniture is created to reduce noise, heighten privacy and increase focus. The implementation of acoustic furniture solutions has seen improvements in the quality of work and a reduction in sick days. Health and wellbeing is core to the implementation of what we refer to as a “positive workplace”.
Their solutions are centred on controlling acoustics, from chairs to blinds, booths to desk screens, even ‘wings’ that partition a large space from above, they are one of the leading designers in the acoustic office movement. Hard surfaces don’t absorb unwanted sound as well as softer materials. BuzziSpace’s stylish solutions reduce unwanted noise in an aesthetically appealing way, creating a piece of art. Their modular design style also create the illusion of rooms within a rooms, which ties in to employee’s desires to be able to work in their own way.
Diffusing sound doesn’t just begin and end with clever furniture design, when adopted fully it includes consideration of all office materials. For example, acoustic ceiling tiles control the reflection of sound waves, and the use of sound absorbent materials more generally also helps with diffusion.
If you’re looking for a more natural option and / or you’re on a smaller budget, consider introducing plants into the office to help absorb sound levels. The implementation of plant walls has been a little overhyped in recent years, but the adoption of plants can be striking, have a positive impact on wellbeing and improve oxygen levels in the office.
Achieving activity-based office design that considers optimum sound is an art and a science. Sound absorbing materials have come a long way in recent years and now offer a plethora of stylish office solutions.
A business specific approach will depend on how your employees work and interact. But either way, make sure you consider acoustic design for your next office. Having a designated ‘quiet zone’ or breakout space is not entirely sufficient. The future office is multi-functional and must utilise acoustic design to meet employee’s needs. Controlling sound is a big issue, it’s time for employers to listen up.