The Sound of Contemporary Workplace Design

May 9, 2018

Why are acoustics so important in a work space and is anyone getting it right?

''I have long held the opinion that the amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to their mental capacity and therefore be regarded as a pretty fair measure of it.”- Arthur Schopenhauer

Most people with any exposure to contemporary office design concur that open plan spaces are often hindered by inherent poor acoustics. This article looks at why bad open plan office acoustics are so detrimental to the success of a working environment and how the productivity of the people that work within it can be seriously affected. We’ll then show you some companies with products that are well-designed and, importantly, making a positive difference in acoustic office solutions. Read on for 3e1’s in-depth look at this topical and frequently ignored area of modern office design.

Why do poor acoustics have such negative effects?     

Tests carried out for a television programme called The Secret Life Of Buildings have produced evidence that open plan layouts create massive distraction which in turn damages productivity. The Channel 4 programme’s presenter, architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff, wore a cap that measured his brainwaves while trying to work in an open plan office. The scanner revealed intense bursts of distraction. Dr Jack Lewis, the neuroscientist who conducted the test, said:

“Open plan offices were designed with the idea that people can move around and interact freely to promote creative thinking and better problem solving, but it doesn’t work like that. If you are just getting into some work and a phone goes off in the background, it ruins what you are concentrating on. Even though you are not aware at the time, the brain responds to distractions.”

This supports the finding quoted by Julian Treasure in his TED talk (watch below) which showed that open plan office noise reduces the productivity of office workers by a worryingly high 66%. Julian is known for encouraging architects and interior designers to pay respect to acoustics in the workplace by creating quiet working areas in every office layout in order to regain this lost productivity. In the absence of any re-design possibilities he recommends workers to wear headphones and listen to birdsong, surf or rainfall to mask the distracting noise.

Forcing people to work in these environments all day regardless of their task profile is costing businesses a serious amount of money in lost productivity. It’s important to also bear in mind the currently unmeasured cost for employees and society of lost health and well-being through stress, fatigue, restricted neural development, and impaired sociability.


The  sound of quality – who is making positive noises?  

Office acoustic screens, acoustic office furniture, and various floor and wall coverings that possess supposed acoustic benefits have been in existence for several years. The problem we’ve noticed in recent times is that more often than not these items don’t create a noticeable effect on the acoustics of a space and – arguably a larger sin – look awful too! Some companies are doing a good job though and we’ve picked out 3 below that we rate – both for functionality and aesthetics.  

1) Ocee Design

Offices choosing the new ‘Positive Sound Tessellate’ collection from Ocee Design are invited to create their own acoustic configuration. There are seven shapes to choose from, different depth options, and extensive fabric and colour choices. As well as being bright and looking fresh, these office acoustic panels have been tested to Class A absorption, meaning they are highly efficient at absorbing sound across a wide range of frequencies. Check out further acoustic options from Ocee Design.

2) Echo Jazz

This is a company we saw recently at Orgatec in Cologne and a fantastic example of what we would call ‘design-led acoustics’. They offer a huge variety of acoustic products from panels to chairs, and even light fittings. The open and highly compressed felt structure of the material they use is more effective than conventional acoustic composites. Although it’s 40% thinner, the ‘EchoPanel’ achieves comparable absorption rates as conventional high-performance acoustic absorbers.  

Explore the full range of Echo Jazz products

Have a read of our full review of Orgatec 2018

3) Acustio

There are lots of companies out there claiming to do acoustics well but are far from nailing it from an aesthetic point of view. Acustio are another company we came across at Orgatec 2018 who are producing products that are less clumsy and possess more subtlety from a design perspective.

Find out more about Acustio and their products.

Get in touch with 3equals1 about your acoustic challenges

If you're planning an office relocation in 2019 or you need to smarten up your own space, speak to 3equals1’s Business Development manager Natalie Brady (see her avatar below) to chat through what you are trying to achieve. At 3e1, we pride ourselves on not only designing tailored modern spaces that work for each client, but also making sure the process is inclusive and fun - for you and us!

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