Why Acoustics Design Is Important For Your Workplace
If you’ve ever found it hard to concentrate on one thing without stopping to check your emails or post to social media, especially in the office, you’re not alone. The average human attention span – how long we can concentrate effectively on a single task – was recently reported by Microsoft to have dropped below the level attributed to goldfish. Given this, as well as the need to perform a vast variety of different tasks – talking on the phone, working in teams, having meetings, doing tasks in front of the computer that demand concentration or having brainstorming sessions, it is no surprise that it is often difficult for one to concentrate at the workplace. What more, being distracted by the conversations of your co-workers?
Of all the factors that affect workplace productivity, one of the most frustrating can be improper acoustics. Yet because we cannot necessarily see sound, it can be difficult to detect problematic areas or know the root of a sound issue, which makes acoustics not the most intuitive to grasp.
To choose an acoustic solution that suits your specific needs, you first need to think of its context:
- Activity – Consider what kind of activities will take place in this space. Will there be people communicating with each other, what will they be doing? How noisy might it get? Is confidentiality an issue?
- People – Consider who will involved in the activities present here. Will there be many people? Do they have special needs?
- Space – Consider the space surrounding it and the restrictions that come along with it. Are there hard surfaces like walls and ceilings? Are there fans, projectors or other sound sources? How big is the space?
As we plan for new workplaces and for modifications to existing workplaces, there are a few simple acoustical concepts that can help ensure a better outcome for employee satisfaction and overall success:
1. Acoustically absorptive materials – These take many forms such as acoustical ceilings, acoustical wall panels and carpet etc. These could be an effective way to not only reduce reflective noise but to provide interesting looks that can augment the look of the space. As a general rule of thumb, place these materials as close as possible to the noise source is most effective. When choosing the materials, make sure that they have a high Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC). The NRC rating indicates the ability of a material to absorb sound. The rating indicates the percentage of sound energy that strikes the surface and does not bounce back. A rating of .50 (50 percent) is typical of an average acoustical ceiling tile. A rating of 1 (100 percent) is available in a few of the best acoustical products.
2. Sound masking systems – Sound masking systems provide relief to creepy quiet environments. By adding a soft background sound to the space, the radius of distraction is significantly reduced (the distance from a talker to the distracted party). In many cases, the distractions can be significantly reduced down to about 15 feet. The key to a successful sound masking installation is the uniformity of the sound delivery, the spectrum of the sound and the volume of the sound. Uniform sound delivery requires that the speakers not be facing towards the occupants of the space. As employees circulate through the space, they should not be able to discern the location of the speakers. A consistent sound delivery allows our human brains to filter it and push it out of our consciousness. Successfully achieving this balance of sound frequency and sound levels will determine the success of the system.
A well-designed acoustical workplace will feel comfortable to employees, aiding collaboration and not creating distractions. Lead the conversation of great office acoustics today, for maximum productivity and minimum stress for you and your employees!