Open plan offices offer a great deal of positive attributes and have become the go-to model in the last 20 years or so. They offer transparency, flat hierarchy, free up more space for shared amenities, and are almost always cheaper to build. However, there is a caveat that can keep employers from joining in on the trend: acoustic privacy.
Recent studies suggest that workers are up to 66% less productive when co-located with a person or group having an unrelated conversation. On the flip side of that, we all have a need to make private phone calls or talk about confidential projects that must not be overheard. In a traditional office plan these conversations would happen behind the closed doors of a private office. As we have embraced open plan, these types of spaces are becoming extinct. Only 8% of the workforce in offices built in the last year work in enclosed offices. There is clear need to address the issues of speech privacy in open plans in order for them to work for you.
Here are 4 ways of achieving acoustic privacy in your open plan workspace.
The easiest way to approach the issue of distraction is on a personal level. The ubiquitous use of technology has stripped away the negative connotations that may have once surrounded the use of headphones in the workplace. Music or white noise can be a great way to zone out auditory distractions and focus on a task, particular repetitive tasks. This solution only helps with one of our problems, so what about when we want to keep others from hearing our conversation?
While wearing headphones all day probably isn’t appropriate, they could really come in handy if you need an hour or two to buckle down.
On a Budget:
Acoustic privacy is an issue that everyone is taking notice of, even furniture manufacturers. If you are looking to improve your existing space or have a limited budget, there are a great number of products that can be employed. Soundproof curtains, felt wall pods, and high back chairs with sound absorbing materials are a great place to start your search. It is best to place the freestanding furniture away from noisy areas as they aren’t sound proof, only sound absorptive. If complete sound isolation is required, take a look at the next two options.
Phone booths grew in popularity following the rise of open offices. These little pods can be bought off the shelf or customized to your needs. They tend to be small because of fire sprinkler codes and generally only accommodate one person at a time. If you need a larger booth, you will likely have to add a sprinkler head and maybe even HVAC, which might rule this option out for a retrofit application. Telephone booths are not meant to be used for extended periods of time or for a group of people, but they do offer a great oasis for a quick call.
Nothing beats original sound proof construction. This is the tried and true method used for conference rooms where confidentiality is important. The key here is selecting construction materials and methods that reduce sound transmission through the walls and ceilings. Gypsum walls should be sealed at the top and bottom, glass partitions and doors should be double glazed, and ceilings should be acoustically rated. Staggering back to back outlets or back boxes for TVs will help as well. This is the most expensive method of achieving acoustic privacy and also uses the most square footage, but it is also the most effective.
Providing acoustic privacy is paramount if you want to get the most out of your employees and your open office. Whether you are looking to remedy a problem or are starting to think about building out a new space, there is an ocean of ideas and designs to draw inspiration from if you know where to look . As these four options show, aesthetic, cost, and impact are just a few of the variables that can help you decided which approach is best for you.
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