How to achieve effective acoustics in a collaborative work environment

How to achieve effective acoustics in a collaborative work environment

By: Donna Metallic ,RID The work environment is more about collaboration, becoming a place of engagement and information exchange and less about solo work; so how do we control all the noise? Throughout my years of experience as an Interior Designer, I have often referred to the industry’s “ABC Rule” of noise remediation.  Absorbing, Blocking and Covering is the principal method used by professionals to achieve effective acoustics. The most common and easiest to fix is Absorbing and Blocking:

  • Absorbing: Materials      that help Suspended ceiling, sound absorptive panels or vertical baffles      to help with the noise reduction and containing sounds.  Workstation panels should be absorptive-      at least on one side- in order to reduce the volume of the occupant’s      voice before it is reflected into the space. Soft Flooring materials can      help with “traffic noise”
  • Blocking: Height of      workstation panels is essential they really should be taller than the      seated head height.
  • Covering:  Comfort, Control and Confidentiality.

There are elements involved in providing noise control, just like temperature control.  There is a comfort zone for the volume of sound, and it is not zero!  If there is no noise, then conversations and noises can easily be heard even from a distance. Covering noise refers to the use of a sound masking system. A masking system can dramatically reduce the distance that voices can be heard and increase speech privacy. Your voice can carry on average 40 feet without masking and only 20 feet with masking (every environment will differ a little depending upon the entire building envelope.) Covering could be the most important aspect that is overlooked according to the most recent findings by GSA’s workplace 20-20 Research Program.  Go to http://www.gsasoundmatters.com/ to see more current information about how a government agency is trying to be more responsible in the lowering of panels and how they are looking at levels of speech privacy and noise control. Herman Miller developed “Quiet Technology” for their Resolve system (which is the office furniture system we have located in our Indianapolis office) which makes speech beyond a 12-to-16 foot radius unintelligible. If the “ABC Rule”is applied correctly, then the acoustics will enhance the overall experience of people working in open-plan environments; thus,  improving their concentration and increasing their ability to focus on tasks … so they’re more productive!

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