How better acoustics can improve worker performance in offices
High noise levels are one of the biggest complaints that employees have about their workplace. Noise pollution in the workplace is caused by a combination of factors: phones ringing, electronic equipment whirring, chairs scraping and, most significantly, people talking. So-called "conversational distractions" have been shown to have the biggest impact on office workers and their productivity ¹.
The solution is not to try to create a silent library-like workspace but to manage the noise levels and foster a more comfortable soundscape by reducing background noise in order to improve speech intelligibility and speech privacy.
What is the impact on productivity and performance?
Studies have shown that making specific adjustments to the acoustic conditions in open office environments with the goal of removing "conversational distractions" resulted in the following improvements:
1. Focus: the ability of office workers to focus on their tasks improved by 48%.
2. Distractions: "conversational distractions" decreased by 51%.
3. Error-rates: performance of standard tasks (measured in terms of accuracy and short-term memory) improved by 10%.
4. Stress: when measured in terms of the physical symptoms of stress, stress was reduced by 27%¹.
How can I improve acoustics in my office?
A simple method to follow in order to improve acoustics in the office is the ABC method.
A – Absorption of sound waves through the installation of acoustic wall panels or ceiling tiles.
B – Blocking sound waves with walls and partitions.
C – Covering the background noise with low-level white noise. This is particularly effective for improving speech privacy.
How do acoustic panels work?
Acoustic panels have a sound-insulating core material covered in porous fabric that is designed to trap sound waves and control reverberations. The porous outer layer allows the sound to penetrate the core material, which absorbs the noise by converting the waves into vibrations, generating a small amount of heat. This heat disperses quickly so that the sound waves dissipate. This reduces background noise by preventing sound waves bouncing off the walls or ceiling and creating echoes.
Sound-masking systems and acoustic panels are relatively inexpensive solutions that can be retrofitted into any office space to improve the soundscape. Making these simple changes can revolutionise your work environment, improving productivity, concentration and well-being, reducing stress levels and providing greater privacy.
¹ Sykes, D. (2009) Productivity: How Acoustics Affect Workers’ Performance In Offices & Open Areas https://www.speechprivacysystems.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Productivity.pdf [accessed September 2018]
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