Improved Acoustics For Enhanced Productivity

Noise is the single greatest negative factor impacting employee productivity in offices across the nation. Recent studies indicate that noise pollution in offices is one of the main reasons that attributes to poor workplace productivity. Studies have also shown that attempting to perform knowledge-based tasks in a densely occupied office space is difficult, and this in turn, is believed to hamper productivity. Nowadays, offices are increasingly adopting the modern open plan office design, providing a sleek and neat look to workplace interiors. An open plan office provides employees the required avenue for creativity and collaboration. Open plan is the architectural and interior design for any floor plan which uses large, open spaces, and minimizes the use of small, enclosed rooms such as private offices.

 

Research, however, indicates that as more and more offices adopt new open plan and open cubicle interior designs, employee productivity is on a decline. According to a study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, where 65,000 people from across continents were surveyed over the past decade, more than fifty percent of the workforce are dissatisfied with the level of “speech privacy” leading to disruption in their work[2]. The research also indicated that almost 62% of the workforce find it difficult to attain privacy and space at work. Additionally, 57% of them do nothing to address the problem of noise in their workplaces[3]. While open plan office spaces are a great way for employees to collaborate, and share thoughts and ideas, the acoustics of any workplace need to be well thought out as part of the concept during the initial design to prevent disruption in work flow.

 

In Quotes Research, however, indicates that as more and more offices adopt new open plan and open cubicle interior designs, employee productivity is on a decline. According to a study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, where 65,000 people from across continents were surveyed over the past decade, more than fifty percent of the workforce are dissatisfied with the level of “speech privacy” leading to disruption in their work.

 

Some of the common instances of workplace noise are:

 

1. Significantly higher workstation densities with more people occupying the same physical space

2. Employees working in closer proximity to one another in open offices

3. Widespread use of speaker phones and the tendency of office workers to speak more loudly when using them

4. Greater use of video conferencing equipment, adding more noise and concentrating louder noise levels in specific areas of the workspace

5. Hard surfaces such as bricks, stone, and glass prevent sound absorption and hence need to be avoided

6. Foam and heavy drapes absorb higher frequency sounds, lower frequencies continue to prevail.

 

As advancement in office space and design technology continues, it is possible for open plan offices to harbour collaboration as well as reduce additional and unwanted noise. A good acoustic environment can improve task motivation by 66%, and increase performance during tasks up to 50%.

 

Minimising unwanted noise

 

Some ways in which offices can bring about improvements in their design, and as a result, reduce unwanted noise and help increase their employee productivity are as follows: -

 

Intelligent Layout

 

1. Isolating noise producing areas: Design should separate noise producing areas from noise sensitive areas. A simple example being locating meeting rooms away from server rooms or cafeterias. This will also provide employees dedicated quiet spaces to discuss and carry forward important tasks at work.

 

For a variety of tasks in office spaces such as meetings, brainstorming sessions, etc., the following layout and design solutions are favourable for sound absorption for unwanted noise:

 

1. Informal meetings: In a typical office, informal conversations and meetings are very common in canteens and breakout spaces in offices. These spaces are often large and can have high soffits. In these instances, sound-absorbing elements of ceilings and walls work best. If adjacent to workspaces, sound absorbing screens are recommended as dividers and prevent sound propagation. It is also recommended to think about the location of the informal meeting spaces, so they are not too close to activities that demand concentration.

 

2. Multi-tasking: Responding to e-mails, preparing presentations along with the occasional phone conversations, and discussing daily tasks across desks are all part of daily multi-tasking activities in an office environment. A good quality sound-absorbing ceiling along with sound-absorbing screens that help divide off sections in the office for groups are suitable for such situations.

 

3. Teamwork: A project room needs sound insulation, a sound-absorbing ceiling with good absorption qualities at low frequencies, and wall absorbers. In a semi-open or open space, you need a sound-absorbing ceiling with good absorption qualities at speech frequencies, and, if people in adjacent areas can be disturbed, then sound-absorbing screens may be used.

 

4. Brainstorming: Sound insulation, a sound absorbing ceiling or free-hanging units, and wall absorbers covering at least one wall, but preferably, two adjacent walls.

 

5. Phone intensive: A sound-absorbing ceiling with the best absorption qualities at all frequencies, sound-absorbing screens dividing people into groups and wall absorbers where possible.

 

 a.  Acoustic telephone booth: While this is very nascent to India as a concept, acoustic telephone booths are now being installed in offices overseas. They allow you to make phone calls with an acoustic and visual protection which will not disturb your colleagues. Such places strongly feel the need for sound insulation walls which ensure utmost privacy during communication.

 

1. Focus work: Cellular offices and concentration spaces requires sound insulation, such as a sound-absorbing ceiling and wall absorbers on at least one wall.

 

2. Formal meetings: In order to hold constructive meetings in workplaces, it is important for everybody to be able to hear and follow each other, as well as participate in discussions. However, it is also important to prevent the sounds of the meeting from spreading to others in the office.

 

Speech will often bounce off of hard surfaces creating echoes that obscure speech. Therefore, a sound-absorbing ceiling with good absorption qualities for low frequencies and wall absorbers covering two adjacent walls would be beneficial. Moreover, it is equally important to restrict the sound to pass on to adjacent meeting rooms, and thus, it is a good idea to have walls that are backed with insulation material.

 

2. For instances where it might not be possible for workplaces to make major changes to their internal design and architecture, sound absorbing materials can be introduced. These allow additional noise reduction without making compromises to the interior design.

 

1. Noise Friendly Flooring: Hard flooring surfaces such as natural wood, porcelain and ceramic add to noise in the workplace. While carpet is an ideal flooring solution for noise reduction, vinyl flooring is another alternative due to its ease in maintenance and variety of design options

 

2. Sound Friendly Furniture: Couches and lounge chairs, wall partitions, and filing cabinets can all have an impact on the acoustics of an open office space—especially high backed couches or enclosed booths that essentially separate a person from the rest of the room.

 

Global studies show that improvements in office design and structure for noise control in workplaces has resulted in up to 16% reduction in perceived disturbance in general and a near 11% reduction in cognitive stress. As more and more offices in India and overseas continue to adapt an open office plan layout, internationally accepted solutions for acoustics such as sound-absorbing ceilings, wall absorbers and sound-absorbing screens will become increasingly significant for better employee productivity.

 

In Quotes Global studies show that improvements in office design and structure for noise control in workplaces has resulted in up to 16% reduction in perceived disturbance in general and a near 11% reduction in cognitive stress. As more and more offices in India and overseas continue to adapt an open office plan layout, internationally accepted solutions for acoustics such as sound-absorbing ceilings, wall absorbers and sound-absorbing screens will become increasingly significant for better employee productivity.

 

Sudeep Kolte is VP Sales & Marketing, Saint Gobain India Pvt Ltd – Gyproc Business. He has been in the sales and marketing field for almost 20 years, at various levels – from a Functional Head to a Whole Time Director to a Business Head. He has worked in companies such as Kansai Nerolac Pvt. Ltd and Shell. Sudeep is a BE and a Post Graduate from the Indian Institute of Management.

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