The open-plan office is a concept that is highly successful for several reasons. It is cost-effective, allows room for expansion and changing team dynamics and creates more working collaboration; it creates a ‘buzzy atmosphere’ and enhances the office culture and enjoyment at work. Every business wants more happy workers as they influence an organisation’s success and performance, but handled badly in design stage, noise pollution is inevitable. Noise is a primary cause of stress and reduction in productivity, and with the fear factor also thrown in, this could contribute to higher levels of stress and illness, rising absenteeism and continuous turnover of staff.
The typical noise level in an open-plan office is 65 dB, and shockingly that’s only 30 dB less than a lawnmower. And, background noise, even at low levels, has been found to increase stress levels and undermine short-term memory, reading comprehension and willingness to engage with others.
Workers have been seen to be 60% less productive in a noisy office – which is a worrying statistic to any business owner. Offices with open-plan layouts may not have the budget, especially after a potential dent in their turnover during the pandemic, to start building walls, but with social distancing key, having conversations whilst distanced will invariably lead to louder voices, which will; of course, lead to a higher level of noise distraction across the building.
Soundtect is one of the many companies that specialises in the manufacture and supply of many different solutions which can be tailored to be as funky or discreet as you like to address this problem, and whilst the addition of acoustic solutions adds an extra dimension to the overall design of a building, its primary purpose is to counteract the noise travelling around it. And let’s face it, now it is more essential than ever to keep our minds calm and composed during these difficult and stressful times.
Plethora of choice
Luckily, most applications – including baffles – can be easily installed as a retrofit project and are so varied in design and size that most offices will find an application that works perfectly for their space and, in this worrying period, budget.
The surge in glass partitioned meeting rooms is another trend which began long before COVID-19, but is now as prevalent as ever to keep staff and visitors safe and, more importantly, separate. However, as brilliant as these are for creating private areas and light-filled meeting places which retain the flow and light of a building, the addition of glass will compound the issue of noise, especially in small rooms, or those with large windows already and often little or no soft surfaces. So, an acoustic treatment to counteract this inevitable reverberation is vital.
The potential additional noise pollution has been addressed, but what about safety? Social distancing is key for us all to return to work with confidence and the peace of mind that our health is not at risk by returning to the arena. Keeping safe at the moment includes keeping a distance, which isn’t always possible – especially in busy offices. To address this, acoustic hanging screens which have been previously used to create quiet spots and mini-meeting areas in open-plan offices can be added to act as pathways to create this separation or section areas to assist the vulnerable. These noise-absorbing partitions have often had designs cut out in them to add additional interest, but it isn’t essential, and with safety more prevalent than ever to stop the spread of disease, solid partitions can be just as vibrant and interesting as they always were and should be seriously considered as an option.
Thankfully, there are plenty of acoustic solutions on the market which offer a wide range of solutions to balance the boom and restore the calm, so our mental health is covered as much as our physical wellbeing. We are all having to rethink the way we work, but it doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be more difficult; it may even change your environment for the better to a quieter, more personal and, of course, safer haven for us to work in for the foreseeable future.