Have you ever noticed that when working in an office, the noise level often changes from day to day. Unfortunately this can result in increased worker frustration levels and lower productivity. These are compelling reasons to take a closer look at acoustics in your workplace.
Approximately 73% of the U.S.’s workforce, about 100 million people, are knowledge workers who are in an open office environment. The impact of noise on these workers has been objectively measured and it yields what economists call gains or losses in productivity. According to David M. Sykes, Ph.D., who has studied the affects of acoustics in the workplace, the biggest cause in loss of productivity in open office environments are conversational distractions.
50% of occupants in cubicles think that poor acoustics interfere with their daily work and that noise is the most prevalent annoyance source in the office and often leads to stress. Employees often sight office speech privacy issues as one of their biggest concerns. The most effective way to increase speech privacy is to introduce background noise. People talking near a cubicle can distract the person in the cubicle and according to industry estimates; employees spend 25 percent of their time on the job conversing in and around their office cubicles, which generates significant distraction.
When only closed offices were the norm, one had speech privacy because of walls and ceilings that would block noise from the adjoining office. Now that most offices have an open environment, it is much harder to provide for speech privacy. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment have become so quiet that they no longer provide enough white noise to adequately mask noises. One recommendation from an article in Insights Magazine on increasing productivity by reducing noise is to reduce noise problems by installing a workspace divider with a height of at least 60”. Some other recommendations include avoiding line of sight layouts between workers and adding sound masking devices. When making these changes, it becomes difficult for employees to understand and be distracted by their co-worker’s conversations. It is estimated that by doing this you increase speech privacy by up to 50 percent.
Acoustiblok.com recommends rearranging the workplace to limit sound exposure. For example, place the employee lounge in an area where sound will not travel into cubicles; and eliminate employee noise contributions by asking employees to silence their phones or wear headphones when listening to music.
According to a study by ASID, Sound Solutions: Increasing Office Productivity Through Integrated Acoustic Planning and Noise Reduction Strategies, when noise issues are addressed, conversational distractions decreased by 51% and the ability of office workers to focus on their tasks improved by 48%, thus improving worker performance and productivity.
When designing or retro-fitting your office, keep the end user in mind and consider how noise will affect their morale, health and performance.