The open-plan office is here to stay and as we move closer to Corporate Wellness Week, taking place from 2-6 July, there is no better time to reflect on how distractions such as noise in the office contribute to decreased productivity and general office unhappiness.
“I love working in an open-plan office and feeling connected with the team,” says David Fish, MD of local office furniture and accessories manufacturer AngelShack. “One of the key selling points of open-plan offices is that they foster collaboration, communication and sharing, encouraging teams to work together on projects to a far greater degree than they would if confined to their own cubicle or office. However, while the positives are undisputed, there are certain factors, such as noise, that make working out in the open somewhat challenging and which have to be taken into consideration,” adds Fish.
“Noise is the second most common complaint in offices worldwide,” says Lauren Clark, concept developer at Saint-Gobain Ecophon, manufacturers of acoustic ceilings and wall panels. “Research shows that sound is one of the main contributors to employee dissatisfaction and studies have found that open-plan offices can reduce productivity by up to 15% because of increased noise, interruptions and a lack of sound privacy.” According to Clark the sources of office noise are varied – from the hum of air-conditioning units to outside traffic, cell phone ring tones and, most notably, colleagues’ voices.
“There is plenty of research showing that the most destructive sound of all is other people’s conversations,” says Julian Treasure, chairman of United Kingdom consultancy, The Sound Agency. “We have bandwidth for roughly 1.6 human conversations. So if you’re hearing somebody’s conversation, then that’s taking up 1 of your 1.6. Even if you don’t want to listen to it, you can’t stop: You have no earlids. And that means you’ve just .6 left to listen to your own inner voice.”
Statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) tell us that the average person spends a third of their adult life at work, which is why it’s so important that we are able to function to the best of our ability while on the job. According to Clark, research also tells us that in a noisy environment the performance of complex tasks is 50% less accurate than in more quiet spaces.
But since many office spaces worldwide already use open-plan or shared office spaces, organisations can’t easily shift or respond to employees’ concerns. Instead, the onus is on employees to find solutions to office sounds or lack of privacy.
Fortunately there are a variety of ways in which to combat the negative effects of noise on the workplace – from building materials such as acoustic ceilings, to double-glazed facades, screens and even office furniture that buffers the transfer of sound and provides a measure of acoustic privacy.
To counteract the detrimental effects of noise in the workplace AngelShack, game-changers in the business of innovative, award-wining office furniture, has launched two sound proof booths to which employees can retreat to escape the din in the office.
“At AngelShack we’re in the business of challenging conventions,” says Fish. “We don’t sell office furniture, we provide workplace solutions for the office of tomorrow, including innovative products such as the Focus and Speak Easy booths that address issues of employee wellness and access to privacy as well as the need for confidentiality in the workplace and at the same time noise reduction.”
Here are Fish’s five tips, suggestions and design solutions for ways to reduce noise in the office work space:
1. Get focussed: AngelShack’s Focus Booth is a fully enclosed capsule that offers solitude from a busy work environment, making it perfect for confidential phone calls and one-on-one meetings. The booth, which is lined with acoustic foam, features a full-length glass door, internal lighting and temperature control. Temperature is the most common complaint in offices worldwide
2. Plants, Plants and More Plants: Well-placed plants have proven effective in reducing noise levels in an open office setting. The larger the plant means the bigger the impact, not to mention the obvious aesthetic benefits and overall impact on air quality.
3. Time out to talk: AngelShack’s Speak Easy Booth is another total-privacy solution that employees can use to make calls without outside interference. The booth is lined with acoustic foam, a full-length glass door, internal lighting and temperature control, plus a handy shelf for pens and notebooks.
4. Listen to the waves: If you can’t control noise propagation in the office by traditional acoustic control measures, today’s electronics offer new possibilities. One technique is to introduce random, natural sounds to the workplace environment that obscure or “mask” the sound of distracting conversations.
5. Design Thinking: Clever design principles that allow for sound absorption and diffusion are key. Spaces need to be properly planned in terms of where to position noisy spaces versus quiet spaces, and the introduction of buffers such as acoustic partition systems, screens and facades that prevent noise transfer from one space to another.
There are many factors to consider when looking at acoustic solutions to combat the negative effects of noise in the workplace, says Clark. “My shout out to designers is for them to be mindful of the performance criteria of different products, so that they can make informed decisions about which products and materials deliver an acoustic solution that works from both a visual and audio perspective.
“Nature and the outdoor environment are far more comfortable from an acoustic point of view than indoor spaces and the trick is to bring this insight into our design of indoor spaces such as offices now and moving forward,”concludes Clarke.