We experience a room with all our senses. So shouldn’t architects spend as much time on how a space sounds as they do on how it looks? Office acoustics are the second most important physical feature affecting workplace productivity (after light). As we shift towards a ‘knowledge economy’ where success depends increasingly on human productivity and satisfaction, office noise is becoming a pressing issue for businesses.
Acoustics have become particularly problematic in the open offices that many companies now use. As Søren Peter Lund, a senior researcher at the Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment explains:
"The lack of privacy in an open office makes workers feel like they are constantly being watched, and the noises around them might be perceived as a threat and an intrusion. Especially when people are talking around you it becomes very difficult to concentrate. The acoustic quality of a room is one of the main factors to take into account when designing spaces that are used for both communicative and cognitive tasks".
Adjusting the acoustics
In fact, research shows that workers in an open office are 15 percent less productive: they have more difficulty concentrating, with small distractions causing them to lose more than 20 minutes of concentrated work per day. Adjust the acoustics, though, and open-office productivity improves. Employees gain around 50 percent more focus and are approximately 50 percent less distracted. They make 10 percent fewer errors and their stress levels drop by over one quarter1.
Using non-noise reflecting material on ceilings and walls, for example, can help reduce the degree to which speech reverberates, lowering noise to comfortable levels. Applied acoustics can help solve the tricky challenge of creating a flexible, attractive work environment where employees can work happily and without distraction.
1: David M. Sykes, "Productivity: How Acoustics Affect Workers’ Performance In Offices & Open Areas"