Sound levels in workplaces can distract staff and even make them ill, reducing productivity by up to two thirds. This blog considers how acoustics should be managed, by considering office layout as well as appropriate commercial flooring.
Creating or refurbishing workplaces means having your ear to the ground for the best interior designs ideas and trends. However, your ears are also a valuable design tool in other ways. Modern office environments rely on good acoustics to create the best conditions for employee comfort and productivity.
This is particularly true as many offices and workspaces these days rely on being open plan, to support collaborative working. They are also designed around technology and the need for modular and agile layouts for flexibility.
All very laudable, but if the acoustics get forgotten, modern workplaces can be unpleasant and distracting. This is bound to reduce concentration and productivity levels, and this is by up to two thirds, according to one expert on sound quality. In an article for The Guardian, Julian Treasure, chairman of The Sound Agency, makes it clear that sound can actually make people feel physically ill.
He says: “Sound in a space affects us profoundly. It changes our heart rate, breathing, hormone secretion, brain waves, it affects our emotions and our cognition.”
“There is also a lot of research to demonstrate that noise in offices changes people’s behaviour – it makes them less helpful, more frustrated, absenteeism goes up and so does the rate of sickness.”
Anxiety levels will increase, as staff try to focus on their tasks and deal with background noise. Stress levels will rise exponentially with the volume of sounds around them.
Does silence work best in workspace?
The distraction and discomfort of trying to tune out conversations right next to you or the ambient noises in a room may lead you to believe that a totally silent office would be preferable.
Even if this were possible, it would be equally disruptive and unpleasant. Staff might find it intimidating to have this imposed on them.
Accoustic solutions for modern work space
As with all new workspace designs, the solution relies on having the right balance of functionality, aesthetics and sensory stimulation. Just as when creating workspace levels of natural and artificial light would be carefully weighed up and quality tested, so sound management needs to be considered.
One of the best tests to decide a plan of action is to sit and walk in the space with your eyes closed. Where is the worst reverb and pooling of background noise? Looking at a workspace layout, where are the phones and equipment in relation to meeting rooms and areas designated for quiet reflection?
Of course, the flooring matters, too. Would commercial carpets in some zones help to deaden sounds and create the right acoustics? If hard surfaced flooring is preferred, ask about sound management options. This can be vital in businesses relying on a peaceful and caring environment, such as healthcare facilities, but also public buildings and education buildings.
One thing is for sure: facility managers and businesses will like the sound of a project that considers their ears as well as their eyes.