Acoustics

Lack of speech privacy is the leading cause of complaint in offices everywhere. So why are acoustics so often ignored in workplace design?

Noise is the Leading Source of Annoyance in Offices

Lack of speech privacy is the leading cause of complaint in offices everywhere.

While we may spend more and more time in the online world, our main method of communication is still via speech – So why is sound so often ignored in workplace design?

Noise is all around us – computer keys tapping, footsteps as people move around the office, printers, conversations, phones ringing. Most of these sounds are outside of our control and that makes them all the more stressful. This constant low frequency background noise disrupts learning engenders fatigue, and increases stress hormones.

This is backed up by studies showing that if noise is a disturbing force in the open plan office environment, it not only leads to increased stress levels, but also to lower morale, a reduction in productivity, a rise in absenteeism and overall increased staff turnover. The impact of noise is therefore quite considerable.

Can We Collaborate Quietly?

Top level executives realise the huge benefits that collaboration has on productivity

However, a side effect of collaboration is the increased noise created. Colleagues who are trying to focus on work can be disrupted by nearby collaborative discussions. The two needs can be conflicting if taking place in the immediate vicinity of each other.

In addition, the hard, dense surfaces in the modern office often reflect sound and make it appear louder.

So how can we address this issue in a way that allows both work styles to take place at the same time?

Managing Sound is the Key

It’s not as simple as eliminating all noise. In a very quiet environment concentration can be disturbed by even the slightest noise (think a pin drop!), whereas you can find students studying in the hum of a busy Starbucks. Why is that?

The answer lies in managing the quality of sound. In an office the number one disruption is speech noise. So the key isn’t to remove the sound but to reduce its impact. If words can’t be understood, the brain won’t try and focus on comprehending them. Thus it's important to try to manage the way that sound is absorbed.

Hard surfaces reflect sound waves whereas soft surfaces absorb and reduce their energy.

Absorption is an important element of any acoustic solution. Softer, air trapping surfaces are able to absorb certain frequencies (mainly mid to higher frequencies), which will then leave us with a much more satisfying and comfortable sound level without eliminating noise completely.

A well-designed acoustical workplace feels comfortable to all employees. Collaboration can occur without distracting surrounding groups that may be trying to concentrate.

Can Acoustics Co-exist with Good Design?

Thankfully those unsightly acoustic ceiling tiles we remember from the past have little in common with the range of solutions available for today’s office. Nowadays it’s possible to solve the acoustics puzzle without sacrificing aesthetics. Furniture pieces that are purposefully designed with workplace acoustics in mind, work pods that have dedicated acoustic dampening properties, acoustic lights, screens and flooring can all address the problem.

Designing for all 5 Senses

Given that we discover every space with all 5 senses, it makes sense to give acoustics as much careful consideration as visuals and design in our workspaces. For this reason, we believe that good workplace acoustics should be on the checklist of every design team.
Contact one of our team to learn about managing acoustics in the workplace.

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