Higher productivity and well-being in the workspace. Sound good?

Are you at the office right now? What can you hear? Clicking, the clacking of the keyboard, your colleagues talking, your stomach rumbling before lunch maybe? 🙂 There are a lot of disturbing sounds that can influence concentration, especially in open offices. On the other hand, there is a way how to make an office well designed acoustically and how to contribute to better productivity while making the workplace more comfortable.
Open offices built in good faith for supporting collaboration and team work have many benefits, but the presence of auditory distractions is surely not one of them. When it comes to statistical details, in the world’s largest study of workplace effectiveness, only 30% of employees report being satisfied with the level of noise. Irrelevant noise is also a cause of work interruption, decreased job satisfaction and an increased level of stress. And when it comes to loud sounds and health issues, the consequences can be even worse. Experts found that merely occasional exposure to loud sounds can lead to higher long-term stress hormone levels and hypertension. Thus, noisy offices can be the cause of employee absence, turnover and lower productivity. Studies reveal that employees can be up to 66% less productive when they are exposed to just one nearby conversation. What a loss of potential…

Office privacy wanted
According to a study from the University of Sydney, noise pollution is the main reason why employees complain. Another core reason for discontent in open workspaces is the absence of speech privacy. And it’s no wonder; when statistics say that employees are interrupted by speech every 11 minutes on average and the time wasted because of speech distractions is estimated at 21.5 minutes a day. Plus, a company’s confidential information can be put at risk too – 53% of employees admit they have overheard confidential company information at their office. These issues create a new challenge for designers.

Acoustics matter. A lot.
Office acoustics is, beside lighting (check out some interesting facts about lighting) temperature or furniture, one of top current trends influencing workplace design. The right workplace acoustic design has become an issue that goes hand-in-hand with the “knowledge workers” generation, who usually work in open space environments. And what has the most impact on office employees and their productivity? It is a simple thing – the people talking around us, causing what is called conversational distractions. There are independent studies, aimed at improving speech privacy by removing these conversational distractions that resulted in some interesting improvement regarding:
– Concentration – 48% improvement of office workers’ level of focus on tasks
– Distraction reduction – 51% diminishing of conversational distractions
– Error rates – 10% improvement of knowledge worker performance
– Stress – 27% stress reduction

Sound can actually be good
Although it seems that sounds destroy our productivity, this is not completely true. Another survey shows that absolute silence can be even worse than having some level of background noise. Imagine that you are supposed to work in complete silence 2/3 of every working day, and hearing every tiny unexpected sound from your surroundings. A little bit unnerving, right? This is the reason why workspaces designed to be quiet turn into spaces with increased levels of conversational distractions, not fulfilling the purpose of their sound reduction. The irony that comes from this is that a conversational distraction-free workspace is achievable only by increasing these background sounds, rather than decreasing them. 

Call for a CAB
The aforementioned is why acoustical engineers and consultants usually use a method called the ABCs. This combination should be capable of reaching an acceptable level of speech privacy to achieve an improvement in workplace productivity. “A” is for absorption of sound waves, “B” is for blocking them and “C” is for covering them by using a 48 dB or less amorphous (= not music) background sound. Although in some opinions this should be written as CABs to be as effective as possible. Starting with “C” (which means using a low-voltage electro-acoustic background sound system for covering) is considered as the best way to get cost + time + minimum distraction effectiveness regarding speech privacy. The names for systems providing this kind of background sound can vary; they are commonly known as “speech privacy systems”, “white noise systems”, “pink-noise systems” or “sound masking systems.” However, the terms white-noise systems and pink-noise systems are not very accurate since there is a difference between these and sound masking systems.

Productivity improved!
These mentioned systems can have a demonstrable influence on performance. It was found that in workspaces where sound masking or white noise technologies are used, employees report up to 38% improvement on simple tasks and 27% on more complex tasks.
But besides involving these tech inventions, there are “old but gold” ways how to diminish disruptive sounds. The structure of walls, ceilings, floors and the overall office layout can have a major impact on this. Correct acoustic design with an emphasis on using a variety of materials with good acoustic absorption is the key that can help to reduce unwanted sounds and speech while boosting the concentration of employees and ultimately their well-being and productivity.

Learn how to do it even better at #SWDS. Here’s a little sneak peek of what you can look forward to:
How to create a brain-friendly office? | Sound Design for Brain & Cognition:
• Why and how are we affected by sound?
• What can we do to bring concentration and acoustical
privacy back into the office?
• Learn about physiological, psychological, and physical
aspects of sound and focus work by Saint-Gobain Ecophon

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Interested in revealing more from this year #SWDS program?

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