Good acoustics are essential to productivity, creativity and wellbeing in the workplace. But what do we mean by a good acoustic environment and why is it so important?
As humans, we have a sensitivity to sound that is in-built and comes from the days when we had to be alert to any noise signalling the risk of attack. With this in mind it’s easy to see how the fluctuating noise levels within office environments can have a negative impact, triggering our fight or flight response, raising heart rates, releasing stress hormones and affecting our overall wellbeing.
Couple this with the fact that people respond to noise differently with some finding the constant buzz of an open-plan office stimulating and energising whilst others preferring a quiet, calm environment to thrive. If we want to make our workplaces more inclusive, we need to design for different personality types, so everyone can find the workspace that’s right for them.
The past few years have forced many of us to work from home and the future role of the office has been constantly questioned by many organisations large and small. How do we make the office more relevant? What do people really need to entice them back? How can we be part of the solution? How can we effectively design for agile and hybrid working and provide different spaces for collaboration as well as spaces for individual focused work? How can we accommodate for increased virtual meetings over Zoom and Microsoft Teams?
The need to design with flexibility and choice in mind has never been so important.
We believe that everyone deserves an inspiring workplace to promote wellbeing, happiness and success and getting the acoustics right is a key part of this. But first let’s take a closer look at sound.
What is sound?
All sounds are made by vibrations of molecules through which sound travels. The vibrations move in the air in all directions at about 786mph (speed of sound). What happens to the sound as it moves around depends on how far the sound is from its source AND the surfaces it encounters. Hard surfaces popular in today’s offices such as brick, concrete and glass have little absorption properties resulting in high levels of reverberation, or echo. This directly affects the acoustic comfort of a space, making it harder to concentrate and hold conversations.
When assessing the acoustics of a space we measure the reverberation time, which is the time it takes for the reflected sound to dissipate once the source of the sound has stopped. This is measured using RT60 which is the time it takes for the noise level to reduce 60dB. Knowing the RT60 of a room is crucial for architects and interior designers, especially in today’s environments where over 50% of offices are large, open-plan spaces and where four in five people consider noise in their offices to be distracting.
There are three ways to control noise within a given space, often called the ABC of acoustics.
A – Absorption
B – Blocking
C – Covering
Which Acoustic Solutions would work best in your office space?
With an array of acoustic solutions available it can be difficult to know which one is best for your space. We have used our experience of designing office spaces to select the most effective and creative solutions that combine acoustic properties with design aesthetics.
Creating different zones within a space is a great way of using a space efficiently, allowing you to clearly define different areas allowing people choice and flexibility over where they work, depending on the task and their personality style. In the post-pandemic workplace suspended screens are also a useful tool to help make people feel safe in their environment, which is a key driver for people returning to the office.
Lull suspended acoustic screens are a simple way to implement zoning as well as introduce some visual interest. The screens can be easily hung to ceilings and act as floating room dividers, creating privacy and acoustic comfort. The screens are created in the UK from 60% recycled PET which can itself be upcycled and recycled, making them a great sustainable option. With an array of nature-inspired designs as well as geometric patterns and bespoke options it’s never been easier to inject some creativity to office spaces.
Ceilings play an important role in managing acoustic comfort but they are often left behind when it comes to creativity. There are a wide range of exciting acoustic ceiling treatments available that are not only functional but visually interesting too.
Acoustic baffles such as Breeze are an ideal solution for managing reverberation across large open-plan spaces, designed to be hung vertically they are available in different sizes, shapes and colours to suit any design and complement your branding. For something more unique, BreezeSense printed ceiling baffles feature high resolution realistic wood and concrete effects and are an ideal alternative for projects that want the look of hard surfaces whilst improving noise and reverberation.
Further options for acoustic ceiling treatments include Aurora ceiling rafts and Grid ceiling lattices. Aurora rafts can be cut to different shapes and sizes creating striking ceilings even in the smallest of spaces. For added creative flexibility Grid acoustic lattices are a good option, especially for meeting rooms which can present challenges when it comes to managing acoustics. Installing a Grid lattice above a conference table will help to absorb the noise and reduce echo and noise transference, which is crucial during confidential meetings.
Acoustic surfaces come in all shapes and sizes and acoustic wall coverings are a great way of enhancing the acoustic comfort of a space as well as making a visual impact. If you’re looking to connect your space to nature then Öra Mural wall coverings are ideal – featuring super high-resolution landscape images, they are designed to be seen at large-scale and are a great way to introduce biophilic design elements to your space. Not every space has big windows with a great view of the outdoors but installing an Öra Mural wall covering, will give every wall a view.
Brick, concrete, marble and wood are very popular in many of today’s commercial interior spaces but these hard surfaces have little absorption properties. If you want the look of hard surfaces whilst improving noise and reverberation levels, you might want to consider Öra Pattern, a range of printed wall coverings available in a variety of concrete and brick effects, ideal to achieve that urban look without compromising on acoustics.
Other acoustic surface solutions include Tex acoustic tiles which are versatile, hard-wearing and offer complete creative flexibility over design and layout. And if you’re looking to match existing soft-furnishings and upholstery then TYG fabric-wrapped panels are ideal.
Acoustic surfaces offer a creative option to really make an impact in a space whilst creating acoustic comfort, reducing stress and helping people to feel calm – something that’s going to be incredibly important once we return to the office post COVID.
The furniture choices you make for a space will have a huge impact on how the space is used and how people respond and engage with it. With many people working from home over the past year, how you entice them back to the office will need careful consideration. Delivering choice and flexibility will be key, as will making people feel safe in the office again. Modular furniture that can be configured differently depending on changing needs will ensure space is used efficiently.
DIFFUSE acoustic furniture is a good solution if you want to create agile spaces that allow for both focussed work and collaboration & ideation. From WorkBox which can be either a single-desk or multi-desk option to small-team spaces such as Diffuse X, you can configure the range to facilitate agile and hybrid working, allowing people choice over where they work depending on their needs.
The flexible, modular design of Diffuse screens makes them ideal for larger, open-plan and co-working spaces allowing you to create a space within a space enhancing privacy and reducing distractions from others. The unique curved screen design of the range not only absorbs noise effectively, but it enhances the feeling of being protected and safe, all of which contribute to increased wellbeing in the workplace.
Looking beyond walls and ceilings
Creating a sense of place is going to be key if we are to entice people back to the office and our mission has always been to combine acoustic practicalities with design aesthetics to create products that promote wellbeing, happiness and success. Creating a good acoustic environment needs to go further than just the walls and ceilings. We want to make it as easy as possible to reduce noise and distraction in commercial interior settings, no matter how big or small and so we have designed a range of acoustic products that are easily installed, flexible and accessible to all spaces. From acoustic lighting, acoustic trees, acoustic planters, acoustic art and acoustic office screens – there’s an acoustic solution for every space.
To learn more about how AllSfär can help you in creating innovative, design-led acoustic solutions that promote wellbeing, happiness, and success, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org , we'd love to help!