Improve acoustic control in buildings, improve productivity

Acoustic design is an essential attribute of commercial office building design. General office noise such as chatter, electronics, movement and phones ringing etc can lead to noise disturbance in the workplace. This kind of noise is probably the most prevalent annoyance source in offices and can lead to increased stress for occupants. Yet acoustics, in most cases, do not receive the same level of design attention as thermal, ventilation and other architectural and engineering considerations.

Acoustic control in buildings and good acoustics is necessary for employees and other people in a building to feel well and be productive. A poor acoustical environment can lead to:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • increased stress levels
  • hearing loss
  • fatigue
  • headache pain and
  • decreased satisfaction with performance.

‘Studies have shown noise is a primary cause of decreased employee productivity and increased staff absenteeism. In Australia, absenteeism and ill-health cost business $7 billion per year, unsurprising considering staff costs, including salaries and benefits, make up 90 percent of business expenses.’

Acoustic control in buildings: the research

Discovered via acoustic research that has been sponsored by Resonate Consultants via engineer and equipment support, it has been purported that stress increases and moods go down in noisy, open plan office spaces. And as we all are too aware, over time increased stress can contribute to poor mental and physical health.

The same study also recorded an increased sweat response of participants by 34 per cent, which indicates a heightened level of stress. And ‘…negative mood went up by 25 per cent when they are exposed to the open-plan office noise, which is really significant and obviously leads to lots of potentially negative outcomes.’

The effect that poor mental health has on workplaces and the working world is astronomical. In fact, ‘the Productivity Commission estimates the economic cost of reduced participation [in work] as between $12.2 and $22.5 billion per year, and the costs of absenteeism at $9.6 billion per year.’ What’s more, is that ‘noise can decrease the accuracy of employee’s work by 67 per cent.’

Perhaps more alarmingly, it contributes to presenteeism as well. Which is when people just show up to work and muddle through their tasks without being their most productive or present selves. ‘Stewart’s research team calculated the total cost of presenteeism in the United States to be more than $150 billion per year.’

How to mitigate acoustic issues to improve employee performance

  • Installation of slab to slab acoustic partitions and good quality doors and subsequent door seals.
  • Provide acoustical privacy (sound masking) to assist in creating acoustically private spaces for confidential discussions.
  • Increase acoustical energy in the sound masking system by increasing the number of speakers or playing loud music to help drown out other acoustical distractions like conversations, printers and any other office noise.
  • Improve speech intelligibility (“understandability”) by adding acoustical absorption at the ceiling layer above high speech areas; installing acoustically absorbent fabric within suspended ceilings; or treating walls with acoustical panels to reflect sound towards occupants instead of absorbing it. These absorbent surfaces should be located on shared side walls or along long corridors.
  • Add an acoustical absorptive ceiling above the acoustically reflective surfaces to reduce acoustical reflections.
  • Isolate acoustically sensitive spaces with proper acoustic treatments (for example, sound barriers) to eliminate noise transfer between your space and other areas, which can cause distractions if not mitigated properly.

Preplanning stage of acoustic control in buildings

Make sure that you coordinate well in advance with all other services (for example, building services) to ensure you get a viable outcome when it comes to acoustic control in buildings used for office and working space.

Our Senior Engineer, Jake Werden advises, ‘From an acoustic perspective, make sure you are aware of all the noise sources going into a space and the way the systems are working. You don’t want to put a mechanical supplementary unit in a space that isn’t ideal (i.e. over a workstation) and then require significant additional treatment to mitigate the disruption it would otherwise cause. In an ideal scenario, these supplementary units would be placed in an area where people are not working, such as thoroughfares or kitchenettes and be ducted to its desired location with some internal insulation resulting in significantly less acoustic treatment.’

Similarly, try to be aware of as many granular details of the building from the beginning of the design. This will assist in best informing the concept process and ironing out key issues that may arise during the tender, and ensuring a more streamlined acoustic product overall. This could include employing simple conceptual ideas such as segmenting general working areas away from large congregation spaces to minimise noise and annoyance. Or, from a more technical standpoint, being aware of the building return air risers to better inform the location of rooms that will require full height acoustic partitions so that they do not adversely affect the mechanical systems.

‘While we can typically achieve the ideal acoustic outcomes in a commercial space regardless of when or what these challenges are, the earlier these are identified, the more complementary the solutions will be to the wider architectural and services project delivery,’ said Jake.

To recap, our overall general acoustic control in buildings advice is to design and factor in acoustics from the start, use acoustically treated materials and plan for future flexibility to allow occupants’ changing needs. That way, occupants will be much more productive with better wellbeing, and your staff will be much happier as a result.

For acoustical control in buildings advice, chat to one of our consultants today.

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