Office Acoustics – Demand Better!

What’s the problem with office acoustics? 

As Julian Treasure  points out in one of his TED talks, architects and designers tend to focus exclusively on the eyes. “They use them to design with, and they design for them”. As a result, many of us end up spending our working lives packed into open plan offices that sound a lot like this.

Recent research findings on office noise. 

Kim and Dear (2013) found that around 60% of office workers are dissatisfied with sound privacy, and around 30% are dissatisfied with noise level.

The most recent research from the Leesman Index paints an even worse picture:

  • Noise levels are the tenth most commonly cited “important part of an effective workplace” (behind desk, chair, computer equipment etc).
  • 75% of people consider noise important.
  • Only around 25% of people are satisfied with noise conditions in their workplace.

Why do we put up with this? Surely as acousticians, architects and interior designers, we have a responsibility to deliver spaces where people will perform at their best. Unfortunately, budget constraints are often an issues, and acoustics is neglected in favour of visible design elements.

From your ears straight to the bottom line.

This may be a huge mistake. Are you aware that this noise reduces the productivity of knowledge workers in an open plan office setting by 66%? (Banbury & Berry, 1998)

If we can work that much more effectively in good acoustic conditions, it stands to reason we can make our organisations more profitable, just by considering acoustic as well as architectural and interior design.

But let’s not stop there. If we reduce noise, and allow people appropriate conditions in which to work (which may include quiet rooms to retreat to), it’s not unreasonable to expect that this might make them healthier, and happier – meaning less profit lost due to sickness and recruitment (Evans & Johnson, 2000, Pejtersen et al 2011).

The spend on acoustic design is a one off. The benefits will last you forever.

Our campaign for better office acoustics.

Throughout 2014, dBx Acoustics is committed to raising awareness of the many benefits of good acoustic design in the workplace, and in particular office acoustics. We will be publishing a series of articles, audio demonstrations and examples of good and bad practice, as well as keeping you updated on our progress.

We have already started a survey to find out how people feel about sound in their workspaces. Please join in – it only takes a couple of minutes to complete.

If you are an architect, interior designer or office user who would like to get involved, let us know.

If you work in an office which you think is great, or terrible, we’d also love to hear from you; we want to gather data on what makes a good office!

How can dBx Acoustics help?

We are highly qualified, award-winning acoustic designers with significant experience of office acoustic design. We can work as part of your design team to make sure all aspects of acoustics are considered, from building services noise to reverberation control, ensuring good speech intelligibility. We can also advise on sound insulation between cellular spaces, preventing confidential conversations from being overheard and providing appropriate privacy to meeting rooms and offices.

We understand that your eyes will never be unimportant when designing a workspace, so we can suggest a range of acoustic options to fit with your aesthetic requirements.

We can also help you to consider the layout of your open plan space, positioning teams with differing noise generation and tolerance profiles to control disturbance as far as possible.

Our experience.

Our lead acoustic designer, Susan Witterick, has 16 years experience of office design, including well-known schemes such as:

New build:

  • Chiswick Place, London (with Arup Acoustics)
  • Airbus new office building (with Capita Symonds)
  • Matalan HQ, Knowsley (with Capita Symonds)

Fit out:

  • KPMG, various schemes (with Capita Symonds and dBx Acoustics)
  • Western Digital, Irvine, California (with Newson Brown Acoustics)
  • Dresdener Kleinwort, 30 Gresham Street (with Applied Acoustic Design)

 Most recently, dBx Acoustics has been involved in the design of high-privacy meeting space for a confidential client in London.

Act now – make a difference.

It’s never too late. Whether you are considering a new build or a move to a new office, or have issues in your existing offices, we can help. Contact us now for a complementary 30-minute consultation. With offices in London and Manchester, we consult nationwide.

References

Banbury, Simon, and Dianne C. Berry. “Disruption of office‐related tasks by speech and office noise.” British Journal of Psychology 89.3 (1998): 499-517.

Evans, Gary W., and Dana Johnson. “Stress and open-office noise.” Journal of Applied Psychology 85.5 (2000): 779.

Kim, Jungsoo, and Richard de Dear. “Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 36 (2013): 18-26.

Pejtersen, Jan H., et al. “Sickness absence associated with shared and open-plan offices—a national cross sectional questionnaire survey.” Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health (2011): 376-382.

The Leesman Review 13-2 (May 2013) available at http://leesmanindex.com/leesman-resources


dBx Case Studies - Education

There is a proven link between acoustic conditions in schools and educational outcomes. Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) mandates minimum standards in primary and secondary schools for noise levels and room acoustics, as well as acoustic separation between teaching spaces.

The dBx Acoustics team can help you comply with BB93, but our expertise goes even further. We have extensive experience designing environments for pupils with additional needs, including autism and hearing loss, as well as higher education and noisier, practical workshop spaces.

New and refurbished school buildings must comply with Building Regulation E4 and the acoustic performance standards of Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) ‘Acoustic Design of Schools’. Whilst BB93 is not mandatory for higher education establishments, it typically forms the basis of the initial design for such establishments, with modifications as appropriate to allow for specific HE uses. Where projects are being designed with BREEAM in mind, credits HEA05 and POL05 are also relevant.

There are a number of different acoustic aspects which come together to ensure that acoustic conditions in schools are appropriate to support learning, and it’s so important to get it right – studies have shown that educational attainment can be directly correlated to acoustic conditions.

Our involvement often begins at the planning stage with an environmental noise survey, which allows us to advise on ventilation and glazing requirements to control noise ingress to the building. If mechanical ventilation is proposed, if there is an external MUGA, or if community use is proposed, the noise survey also allows noise emission limits to be set to ensure that existing neighbours are not adversely affected by noise.

Internal ambient noise levels in teaching spaces are also affected by mechanical ventilation, and we work with the M&E consultant to specify appropriate noise control measures, such as silencers.
When it comes to the design of the building itself, BB93 requires us to specify partitions and floors to control airborne and impact sound transmission between teaching spaces, based on their relative sensitivity and noise generation characteristics. The detailing of junctions and sealing of any services penetrations is critical in maintaining acoustic separation between adjacent rooms.

Having provided a suitably quiet teaching environment which won’t be adversely affected by activity in other classrooms, our focus moves to room acoustics and control of reverberation. Often this is as simple as specifying the acoustic performance of a suspended ceiling, but for large spaces such as Assembly Halls and Sports Halls, we undertake acoustic modelling to optimise the specification and placement of acoustic finishes. Where an exposed soffit is preferred, we calculate the specification and quantity of finishes, such as acoustic rafts and wall panels to control room acoustic conditions.

Finally, we carry out pre-completion acoustic testing on-site to ensure that all of the acoustic criteria for the project have been complied with on-site.

The dBx Acoustics team also have a particular interest in acoustic design for SEN schools, particularly schools catering to neurodiverse pupils. BB93 specifies design criteria for “children with special hearing and communication needs”, which is intended to include autism, ADHD and auditory processing difficulties, and assists in providing an environment in which speech transmission is clear and effective. The standard does not, however, consider the other acoustic aspects of school life which affect such pupils, including auditory sensitivities and the need to provide spaces to allow a retreat from the noise and bustle of daily school life. Our team’s direct and personal experiences of neurodiversity, both as parents and as individuals, helps us to understand the requirements of individual educational clients, and help guide the design of educational buildings to provide an acoustically diverse and appropriate environment.

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