Sound is everywhere and it has the ability to affect your mood, productivity and wellbeing. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the workplace, yet, many times, controlling for sound within the work environment is ignored. Insulation Institute spoke recently with Jeremy Luscombe, Marketing Executive for UK-based Resonics, a leading acoustics solutions provider about the impact of sound in the workplace, its effects on people and what can be done about it. The following Q & A was the result of that conversation:
Q: Why is the issue of sound (noise) in the workplace becoming more important?
A: Over the last decade, the segregated workplaces of old have been replaced with the flowing workplaces in line with architectural trends focusing on minimalism, flex spaces and openness. Just look at this list. While this type of office design has become normal, so too has the experience of noise and clamor in the workplace.
Q: Sound is measured in decibel (dB)s. What’s the typical decibel range found in office environments and how does that impact workers?
A: Large, open offices can have decibel levels of 50 to 70 dB or more. For frame of reference, traffic noise usually clocks in at 85 dB. Studies have shown that noise activates the natural stress responses of the body, including the “fight or flight” response. One such study, conducted near Stockholm’s Arlanda airport found that nearby residents exposed to aircraft noise of 55 dB led to more visit medical visits and incidences of high blood pressure or hypertension.
Q: What are some of the other ways that noise can affect people and companies negatively?
A: Productivity. Background noise can disrupt our thought processes and break up our work flow. By monitoring the brain activity of workers in open plan offices, scientists have revealed that workers can be up to 66% less productive when exposed to just one nearby conversation. More than 70 percent of offices with open floor plans have little or no office separation – think of all that lost productivity! Stress. Loud sounds and prolonged exposure to certain noises triggers psychological stress responses in our bodies, including a spike in blood pressure and heart rate. Research has demonstrated that even intermittent exposure to loud noises can lead to higher long-term stress hormone levels and hypertension. Ultimately, this is an issue that impacts worker productivity and health, so the consequences are harmful to health and to the company’s profitability.
Q: Designers and Architects aren’t eschewing open office plans – they’re embracing them. So, how do we find a balance between aesthetics and optimal functionality?
A: With more and more businesses opting for the open plan office, workplaces across the board are bound to get louder if steps aren’t taken to curb excessive noise. Acoustics panels are easy solutions that not only look great, but can absorb 90% of environmental noise and restore comfort in the workplace. Designers and Architects must consider noise in new construction. For existing businesses, they should have an acoustics survey, which analyzes the level of noise and offers abatement solutions to reduce the impacts. This is not just an issue with offices, but with schools, hospitals. Studies have shown that the impact of noise in all three environments can negatively affect wellbeing.
Q: How difficult is retrofitting a space with sound-buffering panels in terms of time and expense?
A: An acoustics survey is neither particularly difficult nor costly to complete and is something that’s offered free by firms, including Resonics. In terms of the financial stake, the bigger exposure for companies lies in the lost productivity and negative health impacts for employees. That drain on company productivity and worker wellbeing has the potential to have real impacts on a company’s bottom line that are likely to be many times more expensive than addressing interior noise with acoustic solutions.
Want to hear more about sound (sorry for the pun). Check out our page on reasons to insulate a home to see why controling noise matters more and more.
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Jeremy Luscombe is Marketing Executive at the UK-based interior acoustics firm Resonics. Jeremy writes about all things sound – from psychoacoustics to interior acoustic design and soundscapes. You can take a look at more of Resonic’s work at www.resonics.co.uk.