We care more about noise than cleanliness or temperature when we’re trying to work. This is because certain sounds are simply impossible to ignore and can become a major, over-riding distraction, preventing us from concentrating and meeting work targets.
Sound, in general, affects us on many levels, influencing our mood and how we think and behave – although we’re often not aware of it.
When we can’t adjust to sounds, we become stressed and overwhelmed, with an increased blood pressure and heart rate and a decreased immune response.
In short, an environment with unwelcome noise has a detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing, impacts on our ability to do our jobs and can seriously get us down.
A popular misconception is that a quiet acoustic environment is always best.
That’s not true.
Introducing different sounds can significantly improve the environment – they just have to be the right sounds. For example, when people are talking and their speech is louder than the ambient noise level, it can be incredibly distracting. However, increasing the ambient noise level, using a wideband, non-distracting noise source can reduce this distraction and restore harmony to the atmosphere.
In certain environments, noise masking systems can be used to artificially introduce a level of noise. They work by playing a low level of noise, across a broad band of frequencies, through speakers in the ceiling void. Ambient noise levels are increased to mask noise from other sources in the most unobtrusive way – workers are often unaware that such sound masking is occurring.
What’s more, studies have proven that, not only does sound masking work but, people perform certain tasks better when it’s in play.
Ceilings are incredibly useful when it comes to countering unwelcome noise as they can deflect sound that travels over screened areas in an open-plan office.
Given that, there are suspended ceilings, with special sound absorption qualities engineered in, that can dramatically improve acoustics, effectively absorbing and reducing sound.
Other methods, in a similar vein, include the use of overhead baffles, with the sound absorption levels dependent on the size of each baffle and the spacing between them.
Walls, windows and panels, through to floors
Acoustic panels are often necessary, when partitioning off certain areas, as their sound-absorption properties will get the best results and work well with absorptive ceiling systems.
Incorporated into the design, wall-mounted, acoustic, foam-lined panels can feature as art. Note that not all panels are created equal though and acoustic treatment, to counter speech, should be between 25 mm and 50 mm thick or should make use of airgaps in order to bump up the absorption.
Blinds can also play a part if made from low-emission fabrics, which will absorb reflected sound off window surfaces, while windows should be double or triple glazed.
And travelling down to floor level, it’s worth considering the carpets that are available with special backing, designed specifically to enhance acoustic absorption. As floors are the largest continuous surface in any office, it’s important to get the covering right in order to help combat unwanted noise.
And then there’s the distraction distance.
The distraction distance is the radius of an imaginary circle around someone talking, which you need to achieve to significantly lessen the impact of the noise.
An expert workplace consultant will be able to take you through the optimum distraction and privacy distances in an open-plan environment and guide you on how to reduce the former in order to increase focus and general worker satisfaction.
With the right solutions in place, the distraction distance can be reduced and you will immediately see a positive impact on sales productivity, task focus (including better outcomes for tasks relating to accuracy and memory), higher rates of worker satisfaction and a reduction in physical symptoms of stress.
Get the distraction distance right and it’s a significant win, all round.