By Vanessa Warne, Furniture Category Director, VOW

The acoustics of open plan offices, and how to manage them better, is a big talking point.

With the cost of office space one of the biggest any organisation has, the space and money saving benefits of housing employees together in one work environment are clear.

Shared spaces and hot-desks have also become popular in line with a more mobile working world and the rise of portable, compact laptop and tablet technology.

The potential advantages of open offices include collaboration, teams being seated together and colleagues across a business being able to discuss work with each other more easily.

However, research is showing that workers do not completely enjoy the ‘all in it together’ experience. In 2016, University of Auckland researchers surveyed 1,000 office workers, asking them whether they shared their office space with others, what sort of co-worker friendships and supervisor support they had and if they had any negative relationships.

The results showed that where work environments are more shared, workers experienced increased demands, less satisfactory co-worker friendships and felt they had less supervisory support.

The buzz of an open plan office can also present problems. Studies have shown links between long-term noise exposure and increased risk of poor health, as well as difficulty sleeping, concentrating and a lower mood whenever noise is above 65 decibels. The average open plan office noise level is around 60 decibels, so it doesn’t take much of an increase for workplace noise to affect worker productivity and health.

According to viscom leader Bi-Silque, tasks requiring reading comprehension and memory are most sensitive to noise. An inability to concentrate can result in greater levels of stress which has consequences for employee health.

Here are five ways we can help to make the open plan office a quieter, more peaceful environment:

1. Plan spaces

 

Sound travels from and between people and equipment. Desking and equipment should be spaced so that noise can be absorbed or deflected between these sources. Sound can bounce off hard surfaces, so consider how it can be absorbed before it hits walls, doors or windows.

2. Use screens and dividers

 

Desk dividers, free-standing screens and hanging acoustic panels can help to create a balanced layout and reduce unwanted noise in open plan offices.

Ranges designed to help include the new Archyi collection from Bi-silque, which was created to increase collaboration, efficiency and privacy in open plan offices. These products can help to absorb noise and let workers enjoy the benefits of an open office without losing their individual focus.

3. Create an acoustic oasis of calm

 

A high back soft seating pod can provide a small meeting spaces or break-out area in an open plan office. Offering calm and comfort in two and three seater configurations, the Avior range includes pods that can be fitted with an infill panel and table to transform a seating area in a busy office environment into a relative oasis of peace.

4. Go green

 

Plants are an excellent natural way to absorb and deflect noise. Roots, leaves, trunks and stems are said to all be capable of absorbing sound, with rough bark and thick, fleshy leaves most effective. Green plants can help to reduce vibration and reverberation levels by transforming sound waves into different types of energy and allowing it to deflect in different directions. These natural noise-busting allies are ideal for spaces with a range of hard surfaces.

5. Cancel noise with headphones

When people really need to concentrate, noise can be cancelled out with headphones. The SupraPlus Noise Cancelling Headset range from Plantronics is ideal for making and receiving telephone calls with absolute voice clarity and is comfortable even for intensive all day use.

The Jabra headset range includes Evolve 20 headsets with passive noise cancellation to help filter out background noise and the Jabra Pro 930 series with a midi boom arm equipped with a high quality noise cancelling microphone.

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