A beautifully designed open office boasts a multitude of benefits. Comfortable collaborative spaces, partitionless benching systems, bountiful biophilic touches and glass walls that allow for plentiful natural light make a bold statement about company culture and lend a heavy hand in attracting and retaining today’s top talent. Open offices have their downsides, however. Tearing down interior barriers and untethering employees from the confines of their cubicle can actually be detrimental to concentration and both individual and organizational productivity. Roughly 70% of all workers in open layouts report that the conversations of their coworkers have the most destructive impact on their productivity. With zero control over what they hear or who hears them, unsolicited noise and lack of privacy bombards the workplace and pollutes employee efficiency. What does this mean for all of us that have gotten on board with the millennial open office trend? Whether we are modifying existing offices or creating new ones, incorporating proper acoustical design elements can increase employee satisfaction and productivity.
Image Source: Office Snapshots, Sberbank Headquarters in Moscow
Combating noise pollution has become increasingly important as a vast majority of modern offices have embraced varying degrees of the open office layout. Private offices are few and far between and workstations are becoming smaller to make room for the flexible, collaborative spaces that our diverse workforce craves. Gensler’s 2013 US Workplace Survey found that between 2010-2012, the average square foot per person dropped drastically from 225 to 176. The survey went on to predict that by 2017, this number would drop even further to 100 sf/person.
While conversation and collaboration are essential for any organization, the noise that they create can inhibit productivity for nearby groups and surrounding workers that are trying to maintain concentrated efforts. The effects of workplace distraction and our diminishing privacy continues to be surveyed by organizations around the world and the results are staggering. Over 53% of employees report being disturbed by others while trying to focus and 42% create makeshift solutions to block distractions. Another study conducted by the University of California Irvine shows that refocusing after just one interruption can take up to 23 minutes, adding significant amounts of stress, frustration and workload to our day. And while we may be able leave the office and its disruptive noise at the end of the day, long-term exposure to noise has been linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, stress, coronary illness and even stroke.
Is it possible to have a beautiful, open office while maintaining a productive atmosphere for employees? Through conscientious acoustical design and thorough understanding of spatial necessities, noise can be minimized and productivity maximized. Let’s take a look at sound masking and modern acoustical solutions that can help absorb, block and cover audible distractions and keep employees working happy, healthy and efficiently.
Image Source: Studio Eagle Offices in Springfield, NJ
Sound masking is a popular acoustic technology that helps to create a more comfortable office by reducing noise distractions and providing relief to eerily quiet environments. While the technology doesn’t cancel all sound, it emits ambient background sound that reduces the intelligibility of speech. Lencore’s sound masking system treats, covers and tunes 100% of your space, providing customized masking levels that are engineered to meet your facility’s specific needs. Once installed, it requires no on-going maintenance and provides speech privacy, acoustical comfort and increased productivity.
The energy that noise creates radiates away from its source and interacts with nearby surfaces. In order to reduce the spread of noise across work areas, sound must be absorbed into soft surfaces. The list of absorptive materials is near endless – carpeting, wall partitions and panels, acoustical ceiling tiles and even plants – but it is critical that architects, designers and facility managers strategically incorporate them during the design process.
MDC offers a broad range of acoustical solutions through its Zintra® line. Panels, digital prints, ceiling clouds, baffles and privacy screens boost comfort levels by absorbing internal and external sound influences. Zintra’s products are available in a wide range of colors and applications that can be customized to meet your office’s desired aesthetic. BuzziSpace boasts a plethora of acoustic furniture to accommodate spatial requirements. From chairs to ottomans, privacy booths to collaboration hubs, these pieces prevent unwanted noise from traveling around the office and provide both acoustical and physical comfort. BuzziSpace also offers acoustical lighting and biophilic solutions, both of which won Interior Design HiP Awards at 2018’s NeoCon shows. BuzziMood, a moss wall application, won in the category of biophilic acoustics. The company’s acoustical lighting solution, BuzziHat, won in HiP’s lighting category.
A number of manufacturer’s offer acoustical wall applications that are easily installed and come in a multitude of colors, patterns and textures. Knoll Textiles and Xorel Artform® boast high performance tiling systems with proven acoustical functionality. Check out their range of lines and all the creative possibilities they can bring.
Image Source: Office Snapshots, Time Inc Offices in London
It is also important to mention that acoustical comfort can be created with design elements that are not specifically targeted towards noise cancellation. Space dividers, lounge furniture and collaboration hubs are just a few pieces that can be upholstered with soft fabrics that absorb disruptive noise that radiates around the workplace. Kimball’s Pairings® Nook, Allermuir’s Haven and JSI’s Indie freestanding screens are soft furnishings that can be employed to deflect sound and provide privacy for employees and guests.
Creating Your Most Comfortable Space
While there is no single solution for overcoming a loud office, strategic use of acoustical design elements like those we’ve outlined here can prove a sound investment for today’s open office. Through the elimination of disruptive noise, employees have the power to concentrate on their tasks and maximize productivity levels. Contact the CDI team for guidance and additional thought starters on creating your most comfortable and efficient space.
Featured Image Source: Kimball Case Study, Philadelphia 76ers Innovation Lab
Corporate Design Interiors (CDI) is an industry-leading commercial furniture dealership whose award-winning product knowledge, thoughtful design coupled with strategic planning deliver functional and inspiring interiors designed to foster employee well-being, productivity and engagement. CDI’s relentless focus on delivering positive workplaces mirroring the culture and vision of companies while delivering a high value investment has earned CDI diverse clients including; established Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits/public sector and energetic startups.
As a “Select” Kimball dealer, CDI’s excellence in sales, partnership, quality improvement, community involvement and overall business best practices earned it the 2017 Kimball Premier Partner Award. CDI was selected among 52 other Kimball Select dealerships throughout the country for this industry-leading honor, earning additional praise for its company culture and enterprise practices.
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