Office noise, it’s distracting, it prevents you from concentrating on your work and it seems like there is nothing that you can about it. Well, good news, there is.
Office noise levels are a major contributing factor to the productivity of a work environment, whether too high or too low if acoustics are not managed then employees and work load will suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, too often designers are so concerned with how a space will look that they never even think to ask themselves “How will it sound?”. More often than not this results in a visually appealing space that is an auditory disaster. You can hear the chatter of your neighbors, their phones ringing, the clatter of their keyboards and in some nightmarish cases even the music playing through their headphones. On top of that you have to deal with environmental noises like HVAC systems, printers and fax machines. This can create a lot of distractions and with studies showing that it can take up to 23 minutes for you to regain focus once attention is diverted it doesn’t take much to lose entire hours of productivity to auditory distractions. On top of all this distraction, high levels of workplace noise have been shown to cause higher levels of stress hormones in employees and can be linked to a higher rate of illness and sick days being used. There are many products available today, however, that not only absorb unwanted noise but also mask it with electronically generated ambient sounds. Of course you can always politely ask an especially noisy co-worker to take it down a notch, but when that isn’t enough, you may need to turn to commercially available tools like acoustic panels and noise masking systems.
Sound absorption is the most common form of sound management and works, to put it simply, by placing barriers made of materials that absorb rather than reflect sound around a source of noise or between it and the area it affects. Imagine throwing a baseball down a hallway with several panes of glass between you and the far end, the ball will pass through the panes (like a soundwave passing through absorbent materials) but will be slowed down by each one and if it makes it to the far end it will have much less force than when it hit the first sheet of glass because the subsequent panes will have absorbed most of the energy. Not all sound absorbing materials are created equal however which is why most come with an NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) rating between 0 (Perfect reflection) and 1 (Perfect absorption). NRC is tested at four frequencies 250Hz, 500Hz, 1000Hz and 2000Hz which is a perfectly acceptable range for human speech but if rated at only these levels products may not perform as well when used to mitigate especially low or high frequencies (music, phones ringing, HVAC etc.). Also note that the NRC rating is an average that is rounded to the nearest 0.05 meaning that two materials with the same NRC might not have exactly the same sound absorbing ability, so research is encouraged when shopping for acoustic panels (Note that any upholstered or “soft” materials and furniture will provide some degree of sound absorption). Sound masking is another option that is becoming quite popular when it comes to sound management. Sound masking raises the level of the ambient background noise which lowers the dynamic range of sound in the room (the difference between the lowest sound and the highest sound) this effectively “masks” other “incidental” sounds such as conversation and when properly installed these systems can reduce the radius of distraction from the source of noise to 10ft-15ft (the average being 30ft-60ft). Sound can also be blocked by placing noise-reflective panels or surfaces between the source of the sound and the area that it affects. This is usually achieved with cubicles, workstations or specially made panels and dividers that have an NRC closer to 0.
Of course there are many other factors that affect the acoustics of a room like ceiling height, parallelity of walls, building materials and even the amount of people that will be occupying the space. Remember, though, that noise is completely subjective and what may be soothing to one person may seem as annoying and distracting as nails on a chalkboard to another. The best way to tackle your acoustical problems is to first identify the different sources of the distractions and handle each one independently. For a variety of furniture and panels visit Skutchi.com or call 1-888-993-3757 and one of our friendly, knowledgeable team members will work with you to create an office environment that looks and sounds ideal and grows you, your team and your brand.