The business world has a love/hate relationship with open plan offices. They encourage collaboration and represent a more efficient way to use office space. They are also better suited to today’s mobile workers, who can take the job with them, have meetings at the canteen or reply to emails while outside. The traditional office-with-a-desk doesn’t fit that work style.
But the hate? Noise! Noise is the number one complaint around open offices. According to sound expert Julian Treasure, employees are up to 66 percent less productive when they can hear an unrelated conversation while doing their work.
A Scandinavian study found that workers in medium to small open plan offices have considerably poorer health than those in offices with more privacy. And a study for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) revealed that over half of workers said noise bothered them – a whopping two-thirds felt they would be more productive if something was done about noise in their offices.
Not all employers are aware of this: over 80 percent of executives told another study that they didn’t consider sound to have an impact on productivity. But they are wrong – the scientific data is overwhelming on this. So what can you do to create a better open workspace?
- Proper acoustic treatment
There are retroactive remedies that you can apply to improve the acoustics of your open space office. But for the best results, acoustics should be a part of the initial planning.
There are many interventions that can be made during the construction phase, such as to walls, ceilings and windows, as well as the materials used. A good layout plan will also ensure that there aren’t unnecessary overlaps between noisy and quiet areas. For example, office equipment such as copiers should be placed away from desks. Nobody likes sitting next to the printer, anyway.
Good planning creates opportunities to include very useful acoustic systems, such as Glassflex® Specialised Acoustic Glass to create private meeting rooms that aren’t isolated from the open office’s flow. Another option is to install Variflex® Mobile Acoustic Partitions which uses an overhead track to easily reconfigure a space as you need it, creating private spaces.
- Minimal changes
But as one of the earlier statistics suggest, a lot of people only realise the problems with sound after they have moved into the office space. Since rebuilding an office space is neither practical nor desired, they often think there is nothing they can do about the noise. Yet there are retroactive solutions that can have a positive impact on the room’s acoustics.
The market offers many types of acoustic booths, but these can take up a lot of space. Sound absorption panels and materials, such as Fabricmate, are less intrusive and cost-effective ways to both reduce background noise and keep voices inside meeting areas. Panels can also be added to cubicle walls for some helpful sound reduction and privacy sound curtain can be used to temporarily close of areas for private conversations.
It’s possible to keep the open feel of a workplace without compromising privacy for meeting spaces. The GF Serene Acoustic Demountable Glass Partitions can be removed and mounted in different places to adapt to your sound requirements. These can be installed after a space was constructed.
- The Basics
Alas, maybe you are on a budget and the boss won’t listen. Perhaps they can’t hear you over all of the noise! Still, there are a few things you can do to give everyone a little sound privacy.
One option is the acoustic chair. This concept varies from high-back models that give some sound cover to chairs with a shield that can be lowered to completely cover your head. But headphones are by far the most affordable basic solution. They are common in today’s offices and won’t draw glances. A good pair of noise-cancellation headphones is an investment. Some models have built-in white noise technology, thus you don’t need to listen to music to use them.
But they are not ideal, since they cut people out of the office loop. A good open plan office should allow for private spaces and away from noisy equipment. If you don’t have the choice to make an acoustic impact during the design, add in some smart touches to create those spaces. The alternative – a noisy place where nobody can focus – is simply not worth it.