Designing the ideal workplace acoustics is a complex challenge, but getting the right balance of aesthetics and effective soundproofing is crucial for business success, as Hush Acoustics’ Robert Crampton explains.
Soundproofing is often overlooked when it comes to designing the workplace. Poor acoustics leads to increased noise levels and distractions, resulting in an unhappy, stressed workforce.
Aesthetics and functionality are the primary focus when designing office space, particularly in modern city offices where minimalist interiors and exposed brickwork are the norm. This style looks great and brings a certain level of chic and prestige to a brand, but when employees move in and team numbers grow, so too do the noise levels. As noise levels increase, so do levels of discontent, distraction, unrest and stress.
Design just for the eyes?
The Center for the Built Environment at the University of Berkeley in California conducted a survey of people who work in an office environment, and found that around 50 per cent of workers in open plan office environments think acoustics inter- fere with their productivity levels and their ability to get their work done.
The major problems proved to be ambient noise from co-workers talking on telephones, people overhearing private conversations, and the muffled sound of people talking in surrounding offices. How many times have you thought to yourself: “I can’t hear myself think!” With current design trends for commercial interiors focusing on open plan offices and with an increasing need for collaboration between employees, it is clear there needs to be a careful balance of quiet and reasonably noisy spaces at work.
The Guardian also published a report which affirmed the findings of the Center for the Built Environment study. Acoustics expert and author of ‘Sound Business’ Julian Treasure explained that it’s just as important for a building to perform acoustically as it is visually. “We experience every space in five senses so it’s strange that architects design just for the eyes,” he said. “Sound in a space affects us profoundly. It changes our heart rate, breathing, hormone secretion, brain waves, it affects our emotions and our cognition.”
Studies have shown that once distracted, productivity drops, and it can take as long as 20 minutes for an employee to regain concentration on complex tasks. They have also revealed that an employee was much more likely to make a mistake in their work.
Improving productivity & concentration
Integrating better acoustical solutions into workplace environments should be more of a focus going forward, whether for a new build, refurbishment or change-of-use office development. It is essential that architects, developers and other profession- als consider soundproofing in the early design stages of a project. This increases the effectiveness of the soundproofing and reduces any further costs down the line where remedial work is needed.
The most effective way to reduce rever- beration, airborne and (to an extent) impact noise levels within the workplace is to use high quality acoustic products in the right application. It is a good idea to involve an acoustic technician to provide guidance here, as reverberation rates and times are not something the average employer will be familiar with. All soundproofing products used should comply with UK Building Regulations Approved Document E (England & Wales), Section 5 of the Scottish Building Standards (Scotland) and Approved Part G (Northern Ireland). These regulations set out important criteria for sound insulation performance for all types of commercial buildings.
There are acoustic products and systems out there that offer significant soundproof- ing capabilities for workplaces of all types.
For new build office developments, a double timber stud wall system is an effec- tive way of reducing airborne noise sources. The stud frames in the wall are insulated using a sound absorber and then layered with Soundbloc plasterboard. This combi- nation drastically reduces airborne noise levels between offices and other internal spaces within commercial buildings and complies with Building Regulations.
For office space that has already been designed in a style that meets an employer’s requirements a sound absorber is an effec- tive way to reduce ambient noise and reverberation. These acoustic panels have a Class A absorption rating and require no building work to be carried out. A sound technician simply works out how many panels are needed and the best position for them, and they are then fitted to either the wall or ceiling in the workplace.
A well-designed workspace should offer stunning aesthetics but also fully take acoustics into consideration. Above all, it should be comfortable for employees to work in where collaboration is common- place but isn’t distracting for other co-workers. Happy workforces make for constructive workforces, which ultimately benefits a company’s business.
Robert Crampton is managing director of Hush Acoustics