We’ve all been in a noisy office. From loud colleagues’ discussions & chats, to noisy ventilation systems and phone calls disturbances, noise at work often comes as a package deal with the job! But what if you didn’t have to walk to the other side of the office every time you need to make a phone call, or you didn’t have to raise your voice in the meeting room for everyone to hear you?
Well, that’s one of the many benefits good acoustic design brings and, in this article, we’re going to explore the different noise issues you’ve been living with and how to deal with them once and for all!
In order to figure out why your office is so noisy, we’ll have to start at the very beginning, before your workplace was even built, when it was still just ink on paper…
When companies look for a new office, whether they want to refurbish, expand or move to a new location, they will inevitably have to think about the design. Nowadays, it is common to focus on elements such as office layout, interior design, visuals, furniture, lighting… but there is an unfortunately often neglected yet essential component for employee wellbeing that seems to get lost in translation: acoustic comfort.
There is a tremendous amount of scientific studies that reveal the serious impact of noise on the human mind and body. According to the WHO, noise is one of the world’s biggest sources of human health harm – it causes stress, cardiovascular diseases, insomnia, changes in social behaviour… Moreover, it is estimated that employees lose on average 86 minutes of productivity per day due to noise distractions! (colleagues chatting, phone calls…). Additionally, research shows that noise-related health issues lead to bad business: more sick leaves, higher staff turnover and lower motivation.
If you’re working in an office setting, chances are you’ve been exposed to noise problems.
Now you know the impact that noise at work has on your motivation and your performance, what exactly is the problem? Well to be precise, there isn’t just 1 problem… there are multiple! You might feel overwhelmed now, but luckily for you, there are solutions! So without further ado, let’s have a look at your office’s nemesis below:
#1 BAD SOUND INSULATION IN MEETING ROOMS
Imagine that you and your team are in an important meeting with a client. You’re being disturbed by the noise coming from next door, such as people talking in corridors, open spaces or adjacent meeting rooms. A lack of confidentiality & privacy in your meeting rooms will not reassure your clients when talking about sensitive issues!
The situation above is linked to bad insulation issues. Sound insulation is the process of blocking sound from traveling from one space to another, through the wall, ceiling, floor, or HVAC network. If you can hear your colleagues on the phone in the office next door, you should look into better sound insulation for your facilities!
TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND TO SOLVE BAD INSULATION ISSUES
1. Define acoustic objectives by planning ahead. The best way to prevent your project from experiencing noise problems is to forecast the noise environment in the future facility before the construction phase of your office. For example: When looking at the layout, ask yourself “What are the adjacent areas next to this meeting room? Would they typically be noisy?” This simple thought process will save you unnecessary costs linked to space retrofits.
2. Keep in mind the functionality of each room & used materials. During the design stage, if we determine important aspects such as: each room’s usage (is it a private area, focus area, area with amplified system?), the usage of adjacent rooms and the materials used for walls, floor, ceilling, doors…, we will be able to find the right balance of acoustic design and set the right noise levels for each room, before sound insulation even became an issue!
3. Noise travels through many paths. Since noise can travel through the main wall, side walls, ceiling, floor, electric plugs, HVAC network, etc. you’ll need to know where the weak points in your design or current office are before you buy materials! You might spend a hefty investment on a main partition wall to block noise, install it and still hear the room next door, only to find out that the weak point was actually the ceiling!
#2 UNBALANCE REVERBERATION TIMES IN YOUR OFFICE
You’ve had enough of raising your voice in the conference room for people to hear and listen to you, it is simply too tiring! So, you decided to install some “sound-absorbing panels” on the walls & ceiling. However, after installing, for some unknown reason, the noise feeling in the conference room has become uncomfortable, even oppressing!
The case described above is linked to Reverberation issues. Reverberation is the “echo” and the “resonance” you can hear inside a room. Next time you go into your meeting room, try clapping your hands and listen to the echo it creates! With more and more meetings happening online, it’s important to control reverberation times as it has a big impact on how well people on the other side of the conference call can hear you.
To achieve a proper listening and speech comfort in a room, you need to control the Reverberation Time (how long the echo lasts in the room). Each room has a different optimal Reverberation Time, and by measuring it before installing treatment randomly, acoustic consultants can know exactly what type of solution to install, how much quantity is necessary (m2) for which type of acoustic panel, and where to install (walls or ceiling?).
Pro tip: reverberation control is directly linked to the materials chosen for interior design finishes.
TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND TO SOLVE UNBALANCED REVERBERATION TIMES
1. Reverberation times & targets will vary depending on the room’s size & function. This means it is important to define what type of activities you are going to conduct in each room (is it a video conference room? An open space? An event room?). And since reverberation control is directly linked to the materials you choose for the interior design (hard surfaces, perforates…), you might want to think twice before purchasing them! Remember: the right combination of material and finishes will contribute to a better listening and speech comfort in the room and won’t affect the design intentions of the designers!
2. There are thousands & thousands of possible solutions. Acoustic issues can occur on a large range of frequencies. Each solution has its own acoustic performance: some products perform better in low frequencies, while other solutions do better for middle or high frequencies. When choosing an absorbent product, make sure that the product you will install treats the right frequency for your problem.
#3 HIGH HVAC NOISE LEVELS
Your desk is located right underneath the exhaust fan. Every day you go to work, you always hear a buzzing sound in the background, and it’s making it difficult for you to focus. After a long day’s work, when you finally turn it off, you experience a feeling of massive relief… Unfortunately, this has become a recurrent issue found in today’s workspaces, and many people may think it is not possible to fix it. However, there is a solution!
TIPS TO TAKE IN MIND TO SOLVE HVAC NOISES
1. To solve issues linked to HVAC noise, it is crucial to identify whether the existing system is functioning on an automatic, low, medium or high-speed mode. Each speed will generate a different type of sound that can be easily controlled if taken into account at an early stage.
2. Similarly, to reverberation & insulation, it is important to define the purpose of each room. A private office will allow less noise from HVAC while open spaces are more tolerant to higher levels of HVAC noise.
3. Bonus tip: If properly dimensioned at the design stage, the ventilation noise can have a positive influence and act as a sound masking system to reinforce focus and privacy at long distances for big opened spaces.
Acoustics is a delicate science – it is easy to do well, as it is easy to do wrong.
The next time you want to design a healthy & productive working environment, don’t forget to take care of this key element: acoustic comfort.
The tips we explored above should get you started in the right direction, while a specialised study will analyze your project in detail (each space, each function, etc.), define tailor-made objectives for each aspect, and then through calculations & simulations will support you to choose the right materials for your design.
By doing this, you can avoid facing acoustic problems after your project is finished and save a lot of costs linked to wrong material choice, overdesign & retrofits.
We, as acoustic consultants, are so-called “noise doctors”. We are the right people to help you with these noise challenges. Think of it in this way: when you are sick, you first go to a doctor. You describe your symptoms, the doctor analyses them and then tells you what medicine you should take to be cured. The sickness is the acoustic problem you are experiencing, the doctor is the acoustic consultant, and the prescribed medicine is the materials that you should install.
We hope you learned a lot from this article! Let’s spread acoustic comfort for more comfortable working environments! After all, we spend our days there… might as well make it comfortable for our usage!
Looking for more ideas on how to fit acoustic solutions in your design? Check out our latest office project for Johnson & Johnson, APAC’s first co-working lab space!
Check out our latest articles: