In this blog we consider the management of acoustics in the workplace and why we believe it is more important now than ever before. Part 2 of this blog goes on to explore HOW FLOOR COVERINGS CAN BE USED TO MANAGEMENT ACOUSTICS.

Well-being matters

Since the creation of the IWBI’s WELL Building Standard a decade ago, the relationship between the built environment and people’s health and well-being has become much better understood. This growing awareness has been accelerated into action by the pandemic as the need for healthier buildings continue to climb the corporate agenda.

As one of the core concepts of the WELL Standard, ‘Sound’, or more specifically ‘the acoustical comfort of a space’, is a fundamental feature of a healthy building. Measured in a myriad of ways, acoustics can be assessed against many different criteria, and as we are now learning, the consequences of breaching acceptable noise levels can be far reaching.

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Excess noise in the workplace can contribute to anxiety, stress, sleep disorders, hypertension and even heart attacks. When you consider that 87dB, the maximum noise-level in UK legislation that employees should be exposed to, is not much louder than many office phones, the issue becomes clear. Multiply this in a standard open-plan office environment with people moving around, chattering, and clattering on keyboards, the requirement for good acoustic management is crucial.

La Poste du Louvre©SebastienVeronese
Tracing Landscapes - Geography Lesson at La Poste du Louvre  (Photography - ©SebastienVeronese)

Neurodiversity matters

As our knowledge of workplace well-being develops, our awareness of the needs of a neuro-diverse workforce is also growing. With up to 20% of employees now believed to be neuro-divergent, many with particular sensitives to noise, employers are being increasingly required to understand and facilitate for this in the workplace.

Where neurotypical brains can easily filter out excess interference sounds, such as people chatting next to a workstation, some neurodivergent brains can find this extremely debilitating and excessively draining on their cognitive resources. This can become especially problematic for those that have processing disorders, sound hypersensitivity, or those that involve conditions such as Misophonia - an extreme sensitivity to pattern-based sounds such as tapping, ticking, humming or chewing.

While inclusive design has been on the radar for some time, until now it has largely focused on accommodating people’s physical disabilities. Neuro-inclusive design requires a whole different set of ‘design rules’ that consider mental rather than physical differences. Acoustic zoning, and quiet areas for focused activity that provides variety and choice for individuals to work comfortably is key. 

Acoustically comfortable office space Wireframe and Change Agent - Compound Magic at SWLEP

Workplaces are changing

Since the pandemic, workplace design trends have been largely driven by a need for employers to attract people back into the office. The advent of the hybrid worker is beginning to evolve the workplace into a series of micro-environments and hubs designed to bring people together for collaborative experiences and social interaction. Moreover, these amenity abundant, inspirational workplaces are becoming an integral tool in the HR department’s recruitment and employee retention strategy. 

By their very nature, collaborative, agile work environments, designed to encourage greater opportunities for interaction, generate more noise. Given that these spaces are often open plan, the need for good acoustic management is vital for these workplaces to function effectively and productively.

Busy office environment with acoustic carpet
Northern Soul - Night Flyer at Axis Mason

The planet matters

As part of the evolving workplace, the pandemic has also taught us that better video conferencing facilities are clearly a wiser investment than airline tickets.

While our technical capability for online meetings and video conferencing has long been available, it took the COVID experience for us to explore its full potential and realise its true value. At a time when the fight against climate change is now paramount, taking to a conference space instead of aeroplane suddenly seems an obvious choice.

For the workplace, whether it’s an online meeting at your desk or with colleagues in a meeting room, good acoustic management once again becomes an important factor for consideration.

For open offices where online meetings are happening at workstations, for corridors and for the conference rooms they lead you to, carefully specified sound absorbent finishes will help keep these spaces more comfortable to work in.

Coastline acoustic carpet at Potter Space copy
Coastline at Potter Space 

Productivity matters

The final reason is very much a practical one. Beyond providing a more comfortable place for people to work in, research shows that bad workplace acoustics can actually reduce productivity by as much as 66%. For businesses that are struggling to survive in a competitive market, this can be catastrophic.

For an existing workspace, sound mapping can provide a valuable insight into the acoustic comfort of a space and generate ideas for improvement. While there are many methods of ensuring a workspace is acoustically comfortable, their cost cannot possibly outweigh this degree of productivity loss, not to mention the potential human cost referred to in our first point.

When it comes to specifying and acoustic solution, a ‘floor up’ approach can prove effective. As the largest continuous material surface that we encounter in the workplace, the floor covering specification is the ideal place to start. For the modern, open, agile workspace, carpet tiles with open-cell polyurethane cushion backing can absorb as much as 36dB of impact sound and will significantly reduce ambient noise. Engineered for comfort, performance and acoustics, they can reduce in-room and through-floor noise by up to 50% compared to other floor coverings. Where harder, resilient floor coverings are needed, Luxury Vinyl Tile products with acoustic enhancements can also offer effective impact sound absorbency of up to 18dB.

Office Acoustic FlooringLVT - First Choice - Open Shut and Carpet - Poise Retold at Clarasys
Learn more about how flooring can impact workplace well-being in our related blog: 5 WAYS IN WHICH FLOORING CAN IMPROVE WORKPLACE WELL-BEING

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