Open office layouts seem to be all the rage these days. Many companies (especially those in the tech industry) seem to be drawn into the look of re-purposing old warehouses, factory areas, and other large format commercial building designs into large, expansive office environments. And why not, after all, they usually look great and bridge the gap between vintage and modern architectural styles. Unfortunately, in addition to the appealing design aesthetics, open office layouts often bring with them lots of sound problems too. Day in and day out I receive calls from companies looking to improve the sound quality of their new and existing office spaces. A typical open office layout has clusters of workstations with little to no partitions between them, and in many cases (especially with older buildings), high ceilings and lots of hard surfaces for sound to bounce off. The results of this can lead to several types of noise issues including poor speech intelligibility, echo, and lack of privacy between workers and their clients (either over the phone or in person).
So what are some ways of improving office acoustics to reduce echo, increase speech intelligibility, and provide privacy for the office workers in this type of application you may ask? Read below and all will be revealed…
Absorption in Acoustics
Acoustic Absorption is basically the act of adding soft materials to hard surfaces in order to reduce reflecting sound and creating a large reverberation time. Much like standing in a cave, reverb or echo can really wreak havoc on speech intelligibility. Because of this lack of intelligibility, people talking in rooms with considerable reverb times tend to speak louder so that they can be heard over the echo, and this can actually make the situation worse. Add in the sounds of running office equipment (printers, computers, etc.) and other common office related noises and you have a real mess on your hands. Installing soft, absorptive materials helps to reduce the amount of reflective surfaces in the room thus also reducing the amount of perceived echo as well. The size of the room in need of acoustical treatment is often what dictates how much absorptive material will be needed to achieve a perceivable difference in echo being reduced. Other factors would include what the walls, ceiling, and floor consist of. For instance, a tile or concrete floor is much more reflective compared to one covered with pile carpet. The good news is that acoustic treatment can often compliment and enhance the already well-thought out aesthetic requirements that the designer had in mind.
Clouds and Baffles
Clouds and Baffles that are suspended from the ceiling are a great way to add absorption to an open office environment since they are able to offer absorption on both sides. This type of treatment can be characterized by the direction in which it hangs. Clouds are hung horizontally with the floor/ceiling and baffles are hung vertically. Popular examples of cloud panels include the fabric-wrapped variety and the very popular WhisperWave Style. You can even go as so far as to make them in a variety of shapes using something like our AcoustiClouds. Baffles can also be very effective and come in many of the same styles as the clouds do as well.
Acoustic Wall Panels
Wall Panels can be used to effectively reduce sound reflections on side walls and cubicles in open office floorplans. Fabric-Wrapped Panels offer a wide variety of color choices and size options. AcoustiArt Panels are great for displaying custom artwork, photography, and company logos while maximizing the absorptive capabilities of the wall(s) they are placed on. High Impact Panels can be used to provide privacy between workstations and also double as a tackable surface area.
Ultimately, the layout and size of the room will determine what treatments will be the best choice for this type of application. Contacting one of our sales representatives and providing us with pictures and dimensions of the space is often the best way to get started with this kind of project.