FM Strategies: Open Office Plans
Part 1: How to Muffle Noise Issues in Open Offices
How to Muffle Noise Issues in Open Offices
By Naomi Millán, Senior Editor August 2014 - Commercial Office Facilities
Of the complaints levied against open offices, one of the most common is noise issues. Noise levels and sound privacy have the lowest ranking qualities in an office setting, according to research by the Center for the Built Environment at UC Berkeley and revisited by researchers at the University of Sydney in 2013, says Chris Papadimos, principal with Papadimos Group, an acoustical consulting firm.
This dissatisfaction with the acoustics of the workspace if often exacerbated in an open office design. These designs typically feature more reflective surfaces, such as open plenum ceilings or polished concrete floors. And they tend to have fewer absorptive surfaces, such as lower or no cubicle partitions, to catch all those sound waves.
Nevertheless, there are strategies and tools facility managers can employ to improve the acoustics in an open office design. The key is to implement them at the design stage, rather than try to retrofit a bandage solution once the space is occupied. "You need to look holistically for how you maintain a degree of acoustic or speech privacy within the limitations of (the space)," Papadimos says. "More than ever proper space planning is critical because it identifies the key components early on and allows clients to evaluate their needs, set realistic expectations and explore available options. To remediate the situation after the fact can be disruptive, expensive and difficult to implement."
One of the aspects to consider early on is the culture, and subcultures, within the company. Understanding the differing privacy needs of specific departments will make it more clear how to provide spaces that will acoustically support those needs.
“You need to be very measured in identifying the acoustical needs of individual groups and then making sure it can be achieved in the open office," says Charles M. Salter president, Charles M. Salter Associates, an acoustics consulting firm. Some work groups might not require robust speech privacy. Others might be inherently noisy, such as a sales group. And still others, such as a call center, might have clients that would be put off by hearing the residual noise in the space from other conversations. "There are lots of different open plan environments and they need to be individualized, from a design point of view," Salter says.