You can ask an interiors specialist to draw a plan of how your new workspace will look, but have you ever considered asking to make a recording of the sound in that space?
Many companies forget taking sound and acoustics into consideration when planning a new improved space. Problems arising from poor acoustics tend to emerge only later down the line when they reach critical proportions and begin to affect business. In fact over 70% of the requests for advice received by CBS are for the correction of existing issues, rather than the provision of consultancy at a design and planning stage.
According to Julian Treasure, the author of Sound Business, collaborative space that is well designed visually will not bring business success if the sound has not been considered during planning process.
CBS used interlinking “Snowflake” panels to make an attractive acoustic partition for this collaborative space.
Why sound is important?
Sounds plays a vital role in employees’ productivity as it affects our breathing, emotions, heart rate, brain waves and cognition. Research on acoustics suggests that people who perform knowledge-based tasks in an environment where conversations are easy to hear, can find it difficult to concentrate and perform well. Since people have the bandwidth to process 1.6 conversations at any one time their brain processes information surrounding them and, as a result productivity and concentration may drop by as much as 71%.
Why are acoustics such an issue?
Noise issues are prevalent in open plan offices. Ideal for facilitating communication and economically attractive, an open plan office also removes the natural barriers which absorb sound and prevent noise travelling. The situation is further complicated by the aesthetics of modern architecture. Hard surface material such as metal ceilings, concrete, glass and tile floors have poor acoustic absorption properties, leading to bounce-back effects, while large open plan spaces, for example reception or atrium areas can significantly affect speech intelligibility.
Layouts which comprise both cellular and open plan offices can be equally problematic. Noise transference from busy offices to adjacent quiet areas or conference rooms may be a distraction and can even effect understanding (for example where training courses are being held), whilst privacy may be compromised if confidential conversations from meeting rooms can be heard from the outside.
Is silence the solution to the problem?
No, silence can be as harmful as noisiness. Imagine being in a room with 50-60 people working in silence and the reaction of the ringing phone or the noise of someone having a conversation over the phone in such environment. Thus, the balance between silence and noise should be reached. It is important to identify the sources of noise in your offices and implement a combination of measures to achieve balance and address noise spikes. There must be a masking sound that would balance unexpected sounds.
How to manage acoustics in your workspace?
The best way to manage acoustics in the office is through a combination of absorption, blocking and cover solutions.
Sound reflected back or reverberated from surface finishes and materials is a major cause of acoustic problems. One of the simplest solutions, the addition of specialist materials designed to absorb sound energy, e.g. wall panelling and ceiling tiles or islands, can significantly reduce reflected noise.
Acoustic furniture is also available, from high back sofas for collaborative meetings to privacy booths for individual working. When placed strategically within an open-plan space these can also reduce noise transmission.
According to Mike Lothian, research manager for tropical plants, strategic use of the right plants especially in large rooms such as reception rooms and entrance halls, can ensure that some sound is absorbed rather than reflected. Further research by Peter Costa and other scientists has revealed that plants such as the Madagascan dragon tree, Kentia palms, peace lily and the weeping figs are the plants that work best as sound barriers. (www.independent.co.uk)
The introduction of vertical barriers between the noise source and listener effectively limits the distance sound energy travels. By using products like partitions, screens and storage cabinets, blocking noise transmission is greatly minimised or eliminated. A highly visible solution, this approach may have aesthetic implications. However, there are a number of design-led solutions which can be stylish as well as functional as seen in the next 2 images.
CBS used these vibrant acoustic screens as an integral part of the design of our client’s training area.
Another approach which is particularly designed to address the problems of intermittent noise is to neutralise the effects by introducing a level of background sound, which also ensures greater privacy. Cover is the term given to a computer generated random sound that makes conversation and noise more difficult to hear and comprehend. The sound has no information within it, which ensures the human ear and brain cannot recognise it and therefore we are not distracted by it.
At CBS Office Interiors in Berkshire we will help you to understand office interior acoustics and solve your acoustics problems helping to create a more productive environment for your company. If you would like to learn more or find out how we can help you contact us here.