New guide: Five tips for good sound in offices
It is beneficial in every way to take acoustics into account when doing interior design from scratch or renovating existing offices.
This is one of the points in a new guide from the Danish Sector Work Environment Council (Branchearbejdsmiljøråd – BAR) for Private Offices and Administration The guide is packed with current knowledge and inspiration for making office landscapes free from disruptive noise.
Danish and international research has shown that noise and disruptions are a problem in many workplaces. For well-being, work efficiency and health. A study by the Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment shows that offices with more than 6 people have 62 per cent more sick days then offices with only one person.
According to Heidi Lisette Bille, project manger for the new BAR Office guide, Office noise – guide to interior design, acoustics and noise suppression, the problem is particularly relevant in open offices.
"There has been a trend towards looking most at the floor space and how many employees can be fitted in, for the sake of efficiency. Unfortunately, without realising that it can reduce employee efficiency if you do not design interiors taking this into account," she says.
Investments that reverberate
The HK/Privat trade union has been contacted by many people with concentration difficulties and headaches as a result of office noise, and this is the background for the guide.
"We want to provide inspiration and proper guidance for concrete measures employees or companies can take. The guide also aims to help companies avoid poor investments during refurbishment and renovation. We know that the financial aspect often prevents companies from making the improvements that can make a difference to the sound environment and hence well-being," explains Heidi Lisette Bille, working environment consultant and project manager for the BAR Office guide.
Five tips from the guide:
1. Choose an office design based on the work to be done
The more people who are grouped together and the more varied their work, the greater the demands placed on room organisation, acoustics and furnishings. For example, workstations used for work requiring concentration should not be placed where they are disturbed by passing colleagues. Where an office is shared by several people, it is an advantage to acoustically separate the workstations using petitions or shelves. The room should have sound absorbent materials, especially if employees talk a lot – among themselves or on the telephone.
2. Ceilings are key
It is almost impossible to achieve good acoustics in an office shared by several people without an effective acoustic ceiling. Use panels which extend right to the edges of the ceiling, as acoustic panels in the corners are particularly effective. The BAR Office guide recommends that acoustic panels be used which fulfil the requirements for Class A absorbers.
3. Choose absorbent walls
Sound shields and partitions made of porous materials are a good idea as they absorb sound, unlike glass etc. Note that a good absorbent ceiling is necessary in order for shields to work. Otherwise the sound goes up to the ceiling and is reflected down on the other side of the shields.
4. Good rules of conduct?
A good physical setting is important in order to resolve the problems. But our behaviour is also a factor. The primary 'noise source' in an office is other people's speech. Conversely, communication is often an important part of work activities. It is a good idea for a workplace to have rules governing where and when employers can disturb each other, speak on the phone and hold meetings.
5. Is it possible to absorb sound too effectively in an office?
It can actually be a problem in an open plan office if the general sound level is suppressed to the level of complete silence, as it becomes easier to hear what is being said at a distance. In addition to reducing the room's reverberation time through acoustic regulation, you should look at how much noise is suppressed from the individual workstations. For example, using shielding and petitions.
BAR Office is made up of representatives from the Danish Chamber of Commerce, the Confederation of Danish Industries, Lederne, HK/Privat, HK HANDEL and PROSA, who work together to promote good working environments in private sector offices.