What’s All That Noise? How to Design a Quieter Office

What’s All That Noise? How to Design a Quieter Office on compass-office.com

Acoustic solutions to increase productivity and efficiency

Blame it on the open office plan – spaces filled with modern workstations and clusters of people typing, consulting, and talking. For better and for worse, it can be a noisy place.

But before you abandon the benefits of the open office and return to the days of isolation in a maze of individual cubicles and offices, perhaps it’s time to have a serious discussion about acoustics.

There’s a lot of noise about acoustics

According to a 2013 University of California study, acoustic comfort consistently ranked last in a survey about office occupant satisfaction. It finished behind office layout, thermal comfort, furnishing satisfaction, and cleanliness and maintenance.

The reasons for this dissatisfaction are worth considering. A report from the Whole Building Design Group (WBDG) explains that distractions from colleagues working are one of the biggest complaints when it comes to office noise. In fact, they often result in:

  • Shifts in attention that reduce focus among employees
  • An increased effort to concentrate, which then contributes to stress and fatigue
  • The abandoning of a current task to deal with demands caused by an interruption
  • The loss of flow of thought, resulting in the need to reorient to the task, which can take as long as 15 minutes

It’s not Don Draper’s office anymore

Workspaces have changed since the “Mad Men” days. In the past, 80% of an office layout was dedicated to “I” spaces; 20% to “We” spaces. Today, as the push toward open office design continues, the split is more like 50-50.

It’s important for acoustic design to complement the open space concept and its adjacencies, those areas that must be grouped together, such as a team conference room and work area. In this new work environment, there must be a balance between focused work and the need for collaboration.

To that end, Allsteel proposes that when designing space, it’s necessary to consider the structure, or zoning, of the space. Ideally, there should be three zoning considerations:

  • Interaction Area, where loud, noise-generating activities can be clustered. These should be located away from the:
  • Focus Area, which supports employees engaged in tasks that require focus and concentration. The Interaction and Focus areas need to separate from the:
  • Privacy Area, a necessary space for private, confidential, and personal work

The alphabet of smart acoustical design

It takes more than higher walls and actual offices to solve the acoustic problem in the office. Instead of helping the matter, these quick fixes tend to worsen the issue by creating a false sense of privacy – which leads to louder voices – and noise leaks.

Usually referred to as the ABC model of acoustic design, Allsteel has suggested a D and E be added to the full list:

A. Absorptive material, which can be used to control reflected sound within a room. This can include ceiling and wall treatments and absorptive finishes on office furnishings.

B. Sound blocking between spaces.

C. The use of background noise and electronic sound masking to cover intruding noise, so unintended listeners cannot hear a private conversation.

D. Drive new behaviors through design, protocols, and group norms to encourage a noise-reducing environment. Examples are not using speakerphones in open spaces and agreement to move conversations longer than three minutes to an Interaction space.

E. Smart acoustic design must be able to evolve so future changes can be met with little disruption. Sound masking equipment should be adjustable and moveable, and walls should be easily moveable and adaptable to new work situations.

The sound of solutions

A smart approach to sound is one that promotes different work environments and needs. It should be versatile and encourage cooperation, focus, and privacy with proper acoustics to maximize employee productivity and satisfaction.

Compass Office Solutions can help make your office more efficient and effective through smart acoustic design principals. If you’d like more information on creating a workspace that balances focus and collaboration with appropriate acoustics, give us a call at 954.430.4590 or fill out our online form. We look forward to hearing from you.