January 19, 2021

When you work in a team, you should be able to hear one another. When you are on the phone, you need it to be quiet. And if you want to have satisfied employees and a functional office, it is worthwhile to think about acoustics. Why?

Community kitchens, telephone and meeting rooms, chill-out spaces. Offices today often contain all kinds of zones. Such a solution is attractive and research shows that it is the right thing to do, though a diverse layout is not enough. In each zone, the employees communicate in a different manner and intensity, and the acoustic solution should correspond to this. “A conversation starts to spread differently through the office, the sound deflects off the walls, ceilings and floors and creates echoes. The workers raise their voices to be heard better, and the sound level starts to rise. A poor working environment is essentially created,” states the Swedish company Ecophon, which has specialised in interior acoustics and noise in the workplace ever since 1958.

A poor-quality acoustic design in a cafeteria, for example, can lead to the sound of cutlery and trays being excessively reflected in the space. Then people start to raise their voices in order to be heard, and so a space that should be completely quiet becomes noisy. A meeting room, on the other hand, should guarantee that no sound can get in or out and speech will be as understandable as possible. All the hard surfaces, which can include, for example, the popular whiteboards and the ceiling, worsen the acoustics in the room.

Noise, in fact, is usually the most frequent cause of poor concentration, and not only in open space workplaces. In a poll from 2018 by the American educational platform Udemy, up to 80% of those surveyed stated that chatty co-workers distract them during work. General office noise was close behind with 70%. Thus, sounds stimuli were far more frequently a cause of distraction than social networks, which only 56% of people considered a distraction.

In fact, an entire thread was created on the social network Reddit in 2015, where the users described sounds that disturbed them during work, from loud chewing and crunching to eating apples. According to 2015 survey from Avanta Serviced Office Group, the most annoying sounds in the workplace, in addition to talking and eating, also include ringing telephones, loud telephone conversations, loud keys on keyboards and whistling. All-in-all, according to Ecophon, you can lose up to 24 days of productivity a year due to noise in the workplace. Once you are distracted by something, it can take up to 20 minutes before you are concentrating again properly.

Moreover, noise does not only undermine productivity, but sometimes also health. Back in 2002, a British psychology company presented a survey that showed that noise has a direct effect on how much employees are missing from work. The greater the noise in the offices was, the greater the sickness rate. And mainly for employees that were supposed to fulfil more difficult tasks.

According to the Faculty of Medicine of Harvard University, people with a low noise tolerance, known as misophonia, are especially sensitive to external stimuli. They are irritated, for example, by breathing, chewing or yawning. Sounds that most people don’t even notice cause emotional instability to them, which often manifests itself in anger.

Thus, acoustic designs that correspond to the given activity and atmosphere can significantly improve the satisfaction of employees, their work performance and health. Acoustic ceilings, foam and the properly chosen noise insulation can help. In short, an ideal workspace is not just a shiny interior. What good is a fantastic desk, after all, if someone keeps disturbing you or a brainstorming room where you can’t hear yourself speak? Hearing is a sense that never sleeps. And it is worthwhile keeping it in mind when designing your spaces.