How Acoustic Panels Can Save Employee Productivity
The Modern Office
The modern office is not governed by a geometric design. Its architectural simplification breaks down the walls of cubicles to invite an open and airy work environment. This stimulates office culture and promotes personal interaction. The landscape may be pleasing but this minimalist approach to the office space comes with its issues.
It was believed that a breakdown of cubicles would lead to genuine social interaction and collaboration. However, a lack of privacy has shown the opposite with avoided face time and more digital communication. But it is not just the lack of privacy that is plummeting employee productivity. An unwanted side effect of fewer walls, higher ceilings, and minimal furnishings is a whole lot of noise.
Noise Pollution in the Office
Noise is not just an everyday nuisance we can brush off. It’s an irritation that can affect our health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), any noise above 65 decibels (dB) is considered noise pollution and anything exceeding 75 dB becomes harmful.
Unwanted noise in the workplace can come from all sources.
- Noise from AC and heating units, kitchen spaces, keyboards, and fax machines are all inevitable culprits of noise. Exterior noises as well, traffic outside of the buildings and car noises, are all unaccounted for in an open space plan.
- The open office lacks the fundamentals of proper space planning like involving full or partial enclosures, as mentioned before. The “all in this together” environment for employees is an easy way of meaning no matter what, you are always in direct earshot of someone’s phone conversation or your table mate clicking his pen every ten seconds.
- The lack of visual privacy is also cause for problems in the workplace. Although not necessarily auditory, constant visual contact with your peers makes it even more challenging to avoid any unwanted noise from overhead conversations, meetings, etc.
- Sound bounces off of hard surfaces. In open office spaces with little walls and plastic or glass furnishings, it’s easier for sound to travel. There is a much higher tendency of echo and sound reverb in this type of environment. It creates a fluctuation in noise that can make everyday activities much more challenging to focus on.
Effects of Noise Pollution in the Office
Constant exposure to noise in the open office space is not healthy for intellectual focus and productivity nor is it good for our personal health.
- Excessive levels of noise can cause stress by overstimulating the nervous system and consequently raising blood pressure and increasing heart rate. This also can lead to increased irritability as employees push to work through the noise.
- With the range of noises overlapping in the workplace, attentional functions begin to deteriorate. There is even evidence to support that background noise can decrease cognitive functions like learning and memory.
- Noise makes multitasking impossible. It becomes dangerously easy to fall off task with constant uninterrupted distractions. It will not just stunt work productivity but affect actual work performance.
- When work performance suffers so does workplace motivation. Over 65% of people consider leaving their work due to noisy situations.
- While headphones may seem like a simple solution, they can make things worse. Headphones are not the direct problem but the volume at which we listen and the duration of time we use them. Simply put, when sound waves reach your ears, your eardrum vibrates and sends those vibrations to the small bones of your inner ear. This travels on to your cochlea, a fluid-filled chamber that houses thousands of tiny hairs. The louder the sound, the louder the vibration of the cochlea and its hairy helpers. One can guess that over extended periods of time, the hair cells will become less sensitive. Headphones in the office may not cause permanent damage like being at a concert or working in a factory, but there is still a risk of causing hearing problems while masking the bigger issue in the workplace.
Redesigning Office Space with Acoustical Panels
How is it possible then to address the issue of noise in the workplace without compromising the integrity of an open office design? The solution: acoustic panels.
Remember we stated before that noise travels; it reflects off surfaces and moves throughout the space creating overlaps and reflections of sounds. An acoustic panel is a sound-absorbing panel made from soft materials that reduce echo and reverberation helping to mitigate noise in a space. It limits sound travel and effectually clarifies sound, ultimately giving way to creating a more comfortable environment for an employee to work in.
Acoustic Panels- Different Solutions in Different Forms
Acoustic absorbers can come in many forms and materials.
- Non-woven felts or woven fabrics (wool, cotton, etc.)
- Polyester panels
- Fiberglass panels wrapped with other fabrics
- Cellulose-based materials wrapped with other fabrics
Style and Function
Controlling sound in the workplace does not have to sacrifice the style of the office layout. When determining how to achieve the best acoustic performance, consider these questions.
- What is the room being used for?
- What is the size/scope of the room?
- What materials in the space are contributing to noise pollution? (glass, wood, plastic)
- Office furnishings
Acoustic panel materials are available in different varieties of colors, shapes, and textures making them functional pieces of art (or even real art printed on an acoustic panel!). It can become a part of the company brand for its practical use that adds a personal and customizable touch through design. It’s always best to consult an acoustic consultant/architect to utilize sound absorbers to the best of your advantage and marry that with a great interior designer.
Where and How Acoustic Panels Can be Utilized In the Modern-Day Office
Acoustic Panel Dividers/ Wall Mounts
Instead of reverting to the outdated life of cubicles, acoustic panels can be strategically placed to create quiet areas. Acoustic panels can also cover a larger surface area, like a wall, to get the biggest amount of area covered without encroaching in on the office space.
To the same effect, acoustic tiles can be used to cover an entire wall or portion of a wall in any fashion you see fit. Acoustic tiles are great for smaller spaces where the need to control noise is not as demanding as using an entire wall mount. They can be arranged in different patterns and styles, even creating subtle 3D effects on the walls. Decorative acoustic tiles can be subtle or enhance the design of your space by adding color and shape.
Hanging acoustic baffles are great for treating larger spaces with higher ceilings. Baffles are typically installed in two or more directions and at varying depths to best capture sound in a space. They are also multifunctional and can be outfitted with lighting solutions.
Acoustic clouds are suspended horizontally and come in a variety of sizes, styles, and shapes. These are best used to strategically place over areas to capture sound where it’s most needed.
Acoustic workspace dividers provide privacy for a quiet personal workspace still engaged in an open work environment. They can be mounted to desks or tables giving you infinite opportunities to customize the area as needed. And at a time like this, they are a perfect way of safely maintaining social distancing standards among employees in the office. Many desk dividers on the market are made of acrylic plastic (a clear or frosted material) that divides but only increases sound reflections. By using a felt polyester panel, you gain all the advantages of a physical divider with the extra benefit of acting as a sound absorber.
Office Privacy “Phone” Booth
A privacy “phone” booth can be assembled in any given area to give employees a designated space for focused work without any distraction from the outside. The acoustic properties reduce outside noise simultaneously keeping any conversation inside the phone booth for ultimate discretion. It’s a great opportunity for any employee to get away from the office without having to physically leave the office.
The Ultimate Benefits of Acoustic Panels
Noise is a global occupational hazard that does not have to go untreated. Acoustic panels tick off all the boxes for reducing noise in an open office without cluttering the space. The benefits of acoustic panels
- It creates a comfortable office space that employees will want to work in therefore upping employee performance and motivation.
- Provide privacy for personal conversation and work without compromising the open office plan.
- Reducing echo will take away sound interference that will better foster interpersonal communication and work without being distracted by other day-to-day office activities.
- Avoid personal health-related issues like increased stress.
- Take the opportunity to not only better the work-place environment but enhance the aesthetics of the space with decorative panels or baffles.
At Bouckaert Industrial Textiles, we are the leading supplier of non-woven acoustical insulation materials including Poly-Sonic (our own brand of 100% polyester acoustic panels). We help acoustical consultants, interior designers, office managers, furniture companies and many others solve their acoustical issues.