Love them or hate them, with spiralling rents and space at a premium, open plan offices are here to stay.
As Generation Z enters the workplace, modern workspaces often favour industrial finishes with exposed brickwork, metal, ducting and concrete synonymous with the prevailing café culture.
However, hard, exposed surfaces and open layouts mean noise is spread and amplified around the office, making it virtually impossible for staff to concentrate.
One of the most obvious indicators of a problem can be a loss of meeting room space as workers seek shelter from the noise pollution of the main office.
Workers want to work
According to a report by Oxford Economics, ‘workers want to work’. The ability to focus without interruptions is a top priority for employees, yet executives reported that it was one of the least considered aspects of the office design.
Finger drumming, loud calls, coughing and sneezing, general chit chat, door slamming and loud typing are just some of the top 10 annoyances reported by RealBusiness.co.uk.
Noise is generally accepted as one of the greatest irritations for office workers, but it is it more than a mere annoyance?
According to numerous health experts, sound pollution can trigger a stress response, flooding the body with the stress hormone cortisol that has been linked with heart disease, high blood pressure, even musculoskeletal problems and strokes. Chronic stress will also affect your ability to think and lower your immunity to disease affecting your general health and wellness.
With open plan layouts, collaboration and social spaces central to modern office design, how can you protect yourself from the health risks posed by noise pollution?
The importance of good design
It is neither possible nor desirable to have an entirely quiet office, in fact some workers find a certain level of background noise essential for their own productivity. What is key, is to take measures to increase acoustic comfort and provide a range of spaces to enable all staff to get their jobs done.
This doesn’t have to mean putting up partitions and walls that you have so painstakingly removed to improve knowledge share and collaboration. It requires an understanding of your staff and of how your space is used and to provide a range of workspace options to meet the needs of all employees.
Workspaces need to provide for different working styles; for the introvert who needs quiet space to energise and focus, and for the extroverts who need social interaction to recharge their batteries.
So, what can be done to increase acoustic comfort and help make your open plan work for all your employees?
5 ways to combat noise pollution in your open plan office
Introduce quiet spaces
Quiet pods or no talking zones will provide workers with the ability to conduct focussed work such as reviewing contracts, proof reading or copywriting without being disturbed.
Acoustic curtains and screens can help absorb sound and break up the open space whilst maintaining a visual connection between areas. Moveable walls can also be used to create private meeting spaces or additional quiet spaces as required.
Incorporate sound absorbing materials
Choose soft rather than hard materials such as carpeting rather than hard flooring and upholstered seating rather than wood or metal. You could also introduce sound absorbing wall art or panels or incorporate sound insulation into raised access flooring and ceiling panels.
Add some greenery
Plants are a great addition to any office. As well as adding a biophilic element to help improve wellbeing, they absorb and deflect sound waves. Multiple, fleshy-leaved plants in large planters throughout the space will work better than a single arrangement.
Introduce some noise
Yes, you read that right! Introducing some ambient noise can help mask the effects of the more annoying intermittent sounds in the office. There are a range of companies out there such as Noisli, A Soft Murmur and MyNoise that offer a range of ambient sounds to help concentration.
Ultimately, ensuring acoustic comfort in an open plan space requires a holistic, design-led approach, based on a real understanding of the business and the needs of its people.
At Axis House we offer a range of services from space utilisation studies to understand how your space is used to space planning to maximise the layout through to office design, fit-out and refurbishment. To see how we’ve helped businesses just like yours, visit our case study pages or get in touch to find out how we can help enhance your office space.