While office space evolves for a mobile workforce's changing needs and companies continue to embrace open plan office design, recognising the requirement for office acoustics is becoming increasingly critical.
In a survey conducted by the Leesman Review, 76% of office employees list noise as an important workplace consideration yet only 30% are satisfied with the noise levels in their workplace.
Open plan office acoustics
For facilities managers, understanding the basic structure of open office acoustics and understanding the way the physical elements of the office environment impact sound transmission is an important step in implementing good acoustics and mitigating noise pollution. The ceiling, the walls, the floor and the sound masking system all contribute to the acoustic quality of a room.
"The problem with these [open plan] kind of working environments is particularly critical right now, as more and more employees work in open plan offices and at workstations that are on average about 20 percent smaller than they were ten years or so ago." (workinmind.org)
Technology has changed the office environment when it comes to workplace noise. We no longer need to suffer the choruses of mechanical typewriters, listen to the drill of dial-up modem or the deaf beeps on a busy fax machine.
But the beeps, alarms and pings of mobile phones and email notifications and the human afflictions of coughing, sniffing and sneezing continue to plague us.
Not to mention, the chatter, whether at the water cooler, around the kettle or across desks, people still talk a lot.
A study by Udemy supports this with 80 percent of respondents claiming chatty coworkers are the biggest distraction, while office noise was cited by 70 percent of them. Udemy.com
When it comes to conversations, it doesn’t take much to knock us off track. One study noted that just listening to one additional conversation can make us 66% less productive.
Julian Treasure spoke about this at his 'why architects need to use their ears' TED Talk and this Ted Talk blog; ways that sound affects our health and wellbeing, highlights some fascinating facts, for instance:
"Each year, noise pollution takes a day off the life of every adult and child in Europe." Whitepaper by Biamop System & Julia Treasure.
Poor office acoustics and our health
We spend a lot of time at work and excessive noise can make us feel anxious, less efficient and less productive. Operating in an office space with poor acoustics can adversely affect the quality of life, health and social activity of a person over time.
A study by four Stockholm scientists a few years back looked at the ways in which the different layouts of offices is related to sick leave days taken, concluding that open plan workplace design is a cause of stress.
Some studies have proven this, such as this Finnish study that found that the sound environment affects children’s listening skills.
The impact of poor acoustics on your customers
It’s not only your workers that are affected by poor acoustics. Clients will get a poor impression of your organisation if they can hear background noise when speaking to your sales or customer service department.
Whilst many eco-conscious industry professionals have adopted the stringent LEED v4 standards, the implementation of many of its initiatives can at times, unintentionally, degrade acoustical performance. Common complaints around acoustics in “green” buildings include uncontrolled noise and lack of privacy.
The existence of hard and reflective surfaces (e.g. glass, concrete, and exposed metal) which do not absorb sound can be to blame for noise pollution in “green” build programmes.
The noise level can be reduced by placing acoustic materials and sound absorbing surfaces in the areas where the noise originates. In general, it is most effective to place absorbent materials near the noise source.
What is the best office acoustic solution?
Acoustic panel solutions for offices are the easiest and most effective way to ensure the comfort of employees. Our range of screens include everything from smaller screens that can be placed on desks to larger screens that are placed on the floor and function as mobile walls.
Acoustic booths, also known as office pods, are increasingly popular due to the increasing need to create private meeting spaces and 'quiet zones' within open plan offices or other open areas.
We're seeing more and more companies install acoustic booths as a way to provide distraction-free retreats for employees who need to fully concentrate on a task, or who just want a break from the hustle and bustle of the modern office. Here's an acoustic booth we installed recently at Medica group, Hastings.
When choosing the materials, make sure that they have a high Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC). The NRC rating indicates the ability of a material to absorb sound. The rating indicates the percentage of sound energy that strikes the surface and does not bounce back. A rating of .50 (50 percent) is typical of an average acoustical ceiling tile. A rating of 1 (100 percent) is available in a few of the best acoustical products.
It's well known that biophillic design which is essentially 'bringing the outside in' with the use of natural materials and plants helps with stress reduction and increased happiness and productivity, but one of the overlooked benefits is acoustics. Consider using plants and shrubbery as natural dividers in open-plan offices and placing dense foliage on top of filing cabinets, or on desks.
Additional reading: Free guide to office refurbishment>
Office acoustics FAQ’s
1. How do you measure a room's acoustics?
There are two types of noise:
- Airborne noise is a sound that is transmitted through the air, such as traffic noise or people talking in the room next door. The measurement principle is simply to create a measured noise in the first room (the sending room) and compare that to a measurement in the second room (the receiving room).
- Impact noise results e.g. from footsteps on a floor, which can be heard in the room below. This is measured using a calibrated Tapping Machine.
2. What does 'architectural acoustics' mean?
3. How effective are sound absorbing acoustic panels at reducing office noise levels?
Since sound is simply waves of moving air, you can use sound-absorbing panels to stop it from going where it’s not welcome. The panels can be placed strategically for sound absorption. You can hang, mount or install panels that are designed to catch and contain sounds that wander and bounce off of high ceilings and walls.
4. Does carpeting an office floor help improve office acoustics?
From furniture to flooring and layout, it all matters. Every surface either absorbs or reflects sound as it travels through a space.
A great deal of noise pollution can just come from flooring surfaces. In an open office space, hard surfaces such as natural wood, porcelain, and ceramic can produce a large amount of sound pollution. As a softer option our experts recommend any vinyl flooring or carpeting.
Trevor Blake Acoustic solutions
We have various quality acoustic solutions to help you achieve noise mitigation in your workplace. Whether for office fit-outs or refurbishment, the importance of workplace acoustics in office design and the avoidance of disturbances caused by excess noise ensures that those work environments sound as well as they appear in a comfortable and quiet environment. Contact us to discuss your requirements.