Time to Look At Your Office Acoustics?

Is it time to look at your office acoustics?

‘In open-plan offices, sixty per cent of employees say that noise is the single most disturbing factor. Noise from human activity.’

Research carried out by the Danish National Research Centre for Working Environment and others have shown that it is therefore vital to get office acoustics right at planning stage when undertaking an office refurbishment.

Other research done by the American Society of Interior Designers found that 70% of office workers believed their productivity would improve if their office was less noisy.

A study by Berry and Banbury, showed that a noisy office can reduce the accuracy of work carried out by as much as 67%.

Oomen, Knowles and Zhao research showed that disturbing noise in an open plan office environment can ultimately lead to decreased productivity, increased stress levels, lower employee morale, increased absenteeism and overall increased staff turnover!

The government’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (now dissolved) found that there was  a 38% improvement in people’s ability to perform tasks if their workplace has been optimsed for acoustic conditions.

With so much research to show the impact of noise in the office environment clearly office acoustics should be carefully considered when planning your office layout and design.

What Constitutes Noise Pollution?

The definition of noise pollution is a noise that is either continuous or intermittent, and affects the comfort or quality of life for a person of normal auditory sensitivity. And it isn’t only about decibels. All sounds affect us, and yet it is a workplace environment aspect that is generally given lower priority by designers. If architects were required to provide a recording of predicted office noise along with their CAD drawings it could revolutionise the way offices are designed and possibly improve company productivity.

What Is Meant By ‘Office Acoustics’?

Office acoustics is a term that refers to the level of noise within a workplace. ‘Noise’ is used loosely to represent any sound that may have an impact on employee health, comfort or productivity. There are three main factors to take into account:

  1. The source of any noise, such as office equipment or employees talking on the phone in close proximity to one another
  2. The kind of barriers in place between workstations; generally walls or partitions
  3. The level of background noise

The aim is not to create a silent environment, as this can be equally detrimental. A University of Chicago study found ambient noise to be good for creativity, whereas extreme quiet was better for focused work. In most offices, striking a balance between noise and silence provides the best possible working environment.

The Options

The three main areas where a significant difference can be made to office acoustics are ceilings, walls and floors.

  1. The right suspended or drop ceiling will absorb noise, reduce reverberation, and prevent sound from travelling to adjacent areas
  2. Acoustic screens, dividers or partition walls will act as barriers to prevent noise from passing through in a similar way to full walls, whereas acoustic panels will absorb unwanted noise
  3. Carpeted floors will reduce ‘foot-fall’ noise, effectively ending it before it begins

Preventing Costly Mistakes

When tackling the complex area of office acoustics (as part of an office refurbishment project), it’s important to bear in mind that ceilings, walls and flooring need to be addressed as a cohesive whole; one improvement will not work well in isolation, and retrofitting will add unnecessary costs.

Similarly, the position of workstations within the office environment needs to be given careful thought. Placing employees directly in each other’s line of sight allows noise to travel in a direct path, effectively maximising it. Correct spacing of workstations is also crucial as muffled sounds cause less distraction; ‘hearing’ is not the same as understanding in this context. Privacy is also an important consideration as being overheard by colleagues can be inhibiting.

Common-sense approaches, such as separating noisier office activities from quieter ones and, where possible, placing kitchens/bathrooms/break rooms well away from work areas, is a simple, yet effective way office acoustics can be greatly improved.

Re-thinking office acoustics as part of a refurbishment project can in many instances seem a daunting prospect. And yet, by investing a little time, a complex and somewhat overlooked subject can be both demystified and implemented to both the employee and employer’s long-term advantage!

Got an office acoustics issue? JBH Refurbishments are here to help.

Call us on 0333 207 0339 or contact us to discuss your office refurbishment and fit out needs with one of our friendly team.

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