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Minimize Distractions When Using Open Designs

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management. Today's tip is to take minimize distractions to take full advantage of the benefits of open office designs.

Many organizations have found that a more open environment, with movable partitions and plenty of meeting places, is more conducive to productivity than the permanent offices that prevailed 30-some years ago.

At the same time, however, openness means that employees are likely to be distracted by other employees' conversations, cell phones ringing and the like. In fact, more than 20 percent of the more than 1,000 respondents to a survey by consulting firm Randstad US ranked loud noises as their top workplace pet peeve. What's more, extraneous noises can be more than simply annoying. They also can impair workers' productivity.

The objective for facility managers is to leverage the benefits of open office designs while minimizing distractions. A range of acoustical goals come into play. These include controlling the noise in common areas, creating some level of privacy and sound absorption for workers at their desks, and enabling privacy in rooms where confidential discussions occur.

Specific needs and objectives vary from one type of building to another. Government offices, for instance, often require high levels of privacy. In most commercial buildings, the goal is to minimize distracting noises and provide enough sound absorption or background sound that employees can concentrate. In a few businesses — advertising comes to mind — managers actually may want a slightly higher noise level to project an environment of excitement and busyness.

Whatever the specific goals, it's easiest to achieve them when the building is designed with acoustics in mind from the start.


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