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2 November 2023 | by Ellie Freeman
Noise is an inevitable part of business life – but too much or too little can impact how employees feel, not to mention their productivity. That’s why consideration of office acoustics is critical to building and maintaining a successful office!
Before the pandemic, office life was busy and consequently loud. In 2023, offices have become much quieter, with more people remote working. This may sound like heaven for those wanting zero distractions, but quietness can bring challenges as there’s no background noise to mask the din of individuals or behaviours.
New behaviours such as video calls are causing particular acoustic problems for offices and employees. We regularly hear the same gripes. Through our workplace consultancy services, employees tell us things like “We need options for quieter spaces specifically for those on calls throughout the day”, that “existing meeting rooms aren’t soundproofed,” and that “concentrating is difficult as it’s noisy when others conduct online meetings in the open plan office.”
For employers striving to create a desirable Destination Office that employees enjoy because it enhances how they feel and work – noise cannot be overlooked. Here, we explain why business leaders must prioritise noise management and share five ways to improve office acoustics.
One of the ways we judge the success of the Destination Office is regarding noise management. Working from home allows a secure, controlled and acoustically private space – but this is lost when people move into a shared open-plan space.
Individuals’ noise levels are often heightened in open-plan environments, and against a backdrop of less occupied offices where background noise is lower, sound will travel. This impedes concentration and can make employees feel self-conscious and even reluctant to visit the office.
Last year, the Leesman index found that 68%1 of the workforce felt workplace noise was significant, but only 36% felt their workplaces had it right. As it’s believed to take approximately 23 minutes2 to recover from a distraction at work, it’s easy to see how poor sound management can dramatically impact productivity and employee comfort.
Another benefit of improving sound management is that it aids workplace diversity and inclusivity. 20% of the population is thought to be neurodiverse, which refers to a range of conditions from ADHD to autism. Neurodiverse people think and learn differently and typically need distinct conditions and considerations to thrive. They also usually hear sounds differently than others.
Particular triggers can make a workplace uncomfortable for neurodivergent employees, such as loud noises and a lack of quiet spaces. Acoustic office review is a crucial enabler of inclusive and diverse workplaces and vital to help those with severe noise sensitivity.
1. Understand the current situation. Ask employees about sound in the office. Is it a problem everywhere or just in specific spaces? How does sound impact their work? Are particular tasks creating the bulk of the noise? What would they like to see done?
Consultation is a critical way to engage with employees, understand their needs and demonstrate you’re invested in finding a solution.
2. Consider the breadth of facilities you offer. A significant part of acoustic management is about choice. When employees can choose the spaces they work in – whether to suit a specific task, their mood or their health needs, it can alleviate the problem. Consider how much choice is available to employees. For example:
● Do they have quiet or tech-free zones?
● Are meeting spaces adequately soundproofed?
● What about other spaces to conduct video meetings privately?
Also, consider the co-location of spaces so collaboration zones don’t neighbour areas for quiet study. A fresh look at office interior design can help here.
3. Take cues from elsewhere. There are lessons to be learned about acoustic management from other environments, such as department stores. Retailers often use music to help shoppers feel more comfortable and less self-conscious, as it acts as background noise and helps to stop noise from travelling throughout the space. These same ideas can and should be applied to the workplace.
4. Get creative. Creative office acoustic solutions can include raising the ambient noise level using sound masking with pink noise and natural soundscapes. Other material and furniture options include:
● Eye-catching baffle boards, which also add to the design aesthetic
● Acoustic office partitions to create spaces within spaces so the sound doesn’t travel
● Moveable meeting pods to create accessible, quiet spaces
● The use of softer materials and finishes to aid with sound absorption
5. Determine office etiquette. It’s also essential to consider appropriate behaviours in the workplace, particularly in relation to sound. Set out how employees should use the environment and specify which areas are intended for which tasks and behaviours. This will help to create a respectful culture and ensure the office works optimally for all users.
Acoustics must be prioritised within office interior design and office refurbishment projects. Too much noise kills productivity, wellbeing, organisational culture and team dynamics. Plus, it can alienate a significant proportion of the talent pool.
Employee-centric businesses will be keen to adopt effective sound management, as it’s not only an investment in the workplace, but also their most significant asset: people!
To learn more about office acoustics and the other trends shaping The Destination Office as we head towards 2024, download a copy of our latest Insight Report here.
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