Optimising your workplace acoustics

Optimising your workplace acoustics

Recent studies have demonstrated that the acoustics of a room have a correlated effect on the well-being of those using the space. Hearing has been found to be one of the most strongly determinative senses of our emotions, health and cognitive function. Hospitals with poor acoustic design for example, are being proven to impede on patient recovery due to sleep deprivation and speech interference between staff [1]. Therefore, architects and interior designers have a critical responsibility to ensure their designs acoustically support the well-being of its users and minimise adverse effects.

The drastic shift in working environment for many throughout the pandemic has made the quality of the workplace experience a timely conversation to be had. Claims of higher levels of productivity and concentration when working from home than in the workplace have ignited debates questioning the suitability of the traditional office for the modern workforce. Research has found that the productivity of workers can plummet up to 66% when exposed to noise disturbances [2]. It is understandable that employees may feel apprehensive about returning to an office with this issue. As an employer, you may be considering acoustic treatment of your office space, read on to discover design adjustments which offer the potential to significantly boost employee productivity and well-being.

If you find yourself working from home more often and would like to improve the acoustic experience of your home office, consider reading our article on How to reduce noise while working from home.

3 effective design features to consider for achieving optimal acoustics in your workplace

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Royal Institute of the Tropics [KIT], Amsterdam, Netherlands. Designed by AKKA Architects

Despite the fact that the recommended noise level for an office is 45 to 55 decibels, many modern offices operate within the range of 60 to 80 decibels [3]. Exceeding advised limits can have detrimental effects for employees over long-term exposure, such as burnout, disrupted focus and absenteeism.

1. Acoustic Panels

Acoustic panels are designed to reduce background noise in a space. The materials used specifically limit reverberation and echo via the absorption of sound energy. Panels are available in a range of materials and styles dependant on the required function. For example, perforated wood panels can provide additional privacy and a desired aesthetic whereas fabric-wrapped fibreglass panels generally provide the highest degree of sound absorption. There is also great flexibility in regards to their location in the office, panels can be installed against walls, on the ceiling or even act as free-standing dividers of the space.

2. Acoustic Furniture

Furniture which is engineered to absorb sound energy is another effective solution, a particular benefit being that it is highly adaptable within any given space. The market offers stylistic furniture like meeting pods, lamp shades, chairs, stools and sofas. The nature of this solution is low commitment, the furniture can be moved easily to expose an open-plan space when desired. Although all furniture is absorptive to a degree, opting for acoustically designed furniture means less pieces are required to achieve the same effect, thus maintaining a spacious office which is also acoustically appropriate.   

acoustic workplace
3. Retreat Space

One of the greatest contributors to a distractingly noisy office is the prevalence of calls and video conferencing. Now so more than ever since the pandemic, hybrid work involving in person and online communication within a company means there can be a lot of simultaneous discussions in a space. If you are looking to make more significant adjustments in a renovation of your space, a great acoustic solution could be to create a retreat space. Having an acoustically treated room placed into an open space not only provides an ideal area for calls to be made in which sound is contained, but it also reduces the overall reverberation time of the room.

To ensure incorporating these design features into your office has the most cost-effective result possible, we recommend seeking the advice of a professional. The choice of location and type of materials used is highly dependent on the specific context of your space. Acoustic specialists or an architect, for example, would be able to guide you in this respect, ensuring your office space meets workplace acoustic standards in accordance with official building rating systems (for example: BREEAM- Hea 05 Acoustic Performance).

As an employer or business owner, acoustic treatment might not initially seem like the highest priority. However as we have seen, the acoustic experience of a work environment significantly affects how users perform and tend to feel about returning to the office. Acoustic panels and furniture are very simple solutions. They can improve the quality of work by enhancing communication and focus, but also support the overall well-being of employees in offering greater privacy and even unique aesthetic value. For additional ideas on how to make your office space a better place for your employees, check out our article: Four tips to elevate your employees’ well-being.

If you are considering acoustic treatment of your office space and/or are constructing or renovating your workplace altogether and would like some help, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

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