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Acoustics in the Workplace  

Something that is often overlooked, especially when the services of an experienced office design and fit out company are not engaged, is the acoustics of a new office interior. Although it may seem like a minor consideration when contemplating a major redesign of your corporate headquarters, it is in fact of vital importance as far as the functionality of your new workspace is concerned. An office layout that is planned without any thought to the acoustic implications of various design decisions can lead to a workplace that is at best uncomfortable for those who must occupy it on a daily basis and, at worst, a space that has a negative impact on productivity and therefore results in significant losses over time.

Controlling Noise: The Rule of Threes

Acoustic engineers employ what is known as the rule of threes when considering how best to control noise in any particular space or building, so named because it is comprised of three parts:

Absorb

The volume of noise that surfaces such as walls, floors, and ceilings reflect can be reduced by the use of absorptive materials such as foil-backed fibreglass ceiling tiles and flooring with padding underneath the exposed surface. Failure to specify quality absorptive materials when planning an office fit out could result in a workspace where sound literally bounces off the walls, floors, and ceilings, making it difficult for employees to concentrate on what they are doing.

Most companies focus on floor and ceiling materials if they address acoustic absorption in the workplace but wall materials can play an equally important role so should not be neglected. The thickness of materials used to cover walls, as well as ceilings and floors, plays a big part in its effectiveness so it is worth investing a little more to achieve the best results possible. Acoustic panels, fabricated with a high impact slot pattern, can be used on both walls and ceilings to great effect.

Block

An open plan office with no structures to block noise in between different departments is not a desirable layout, acoustically speaking. While such workspaces were in vogue a couple of decades ago, companies that implemented these open plan interior designs quickly realised that although they may have been conducive to interdepartmental cooperation and collaboration, they were most certainly not conducive to highly focused work. The simplest acoustic barrier in use today is the humble wall. However, the materials from which walls are constructed will have a major influence on their ability to block noise so you need to consider this factor carefully as well.

If you wish to retain the feel of an open plan office without the attendant noise, glass partitions of a suitable thickness or half-height walls may be a viable option. The aim is to put obstacles in the path of sound waves created by human voices, electrical equipment, and other noises in the workplace, to ensure that employees are able to hear themselves when on the phone and are able to concentrate on detailed tasks without unnecessary distraction.

Masking

The third, and traditionally the least employed, method of noise control in the workplace is sound masking, or cover up. It is most often employed through the installation of a network of speakers in a grid pattern across the ceiling of each area in the workplace. These speakers are used to add a constant background noise, covering a wide frequency range, which is designed to decrease the range of sound waves from other sources and to reduce the intelligibility of overheard speech. This helps to stop employees being distracted by the conversations of others and keeps overall noise levels to an acceptable level.

Sound masking systems were previously known as white noise generators but modern systems do not use white noise to mask sounds, owing to the disappointing results of such systems when they were first introduced. White noise produces an irritating hiss when used to mask ambient sounds whereas the noise masking systems employed today use a specially engineered range of frequencies that, while being equally if not more effective at reducing ambient sound levels, do not have any undesirable side effects.

Acoustics versus Functionality

It is of course not wise to consider acoustical design in isolation as you could end up with an unusable workspace by doing so. This is especially so when employing blocking strategies to reduce noise transmission: too many partitions and walls may make it difficult for employees to work together productively and stifle the sharing of ideas between different departments in large organisations. For optimal results, it is best to hire a company which specialises in the design and installation of office interiors and has access to skilled acoustic design engineers.

By taking practical workflow considerations into account when designing a space where ambient noise will not exceed comfortable levels, it should be possible to create a layout that meets all of your company’s goals. Half-height walls can be a particularly useful tool when designing a workspace where both noise control and interdepartmental collaboration are important, as they break up sound waves without isolating employees.

Working with Office Design Experts

As mentioned above, the best way to ensure that both your noise control and workplace functionality goals are met is to hire a team of specialists with many years of experience in the design and installation of commercial interiors. At Saracen, we have completed many complex office designs that achieved these aims in full, by working with experts who understand the need to take every single one of our customers’ requirements into account from the initial consultation & planning stage, all the way through to the successful completion of each project on which they work.

If you would like a highly functional office design that takes all your needs into account and ensures noise control is an integral part of the plans right from the start, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us to request further information or to arrange an initial consultation with our commercial design experts.


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