Over the last 25 years, the open-plan office has become ubiquitous. Driven by the need to cut costs, boost culture, and increase communication, many companies removed partitions and moved their people ever closer together in an effort to achieve all 3 simultaneously. Since 1995, the average office space per employee has fallen from 200sq/ft to just 80sq/ ft per person in many cases.
However, over the last 18 months when the future of the entire workspace, let alone the density of staff, has been called into question, this approach is now no longer a given. Driven by a greater appreciation of privacy and space to focus, staff have embraced homeworking. However, collaboration and culture suffer over time when your teams are dispersed.
The solution to this conundrum lies in providing the benefits of homeworking in the office. As one of the foremost benefits of homeworking, privacy has now become a crucial element of the post-pandemic workspace, requiring a move away from standard open-plan office design.
The Importance of Office Acoustics
The most important element of the 3 elements of workspace privacy is acoustic privacy and it is the hardest to control. Sound is like water – it can make it through the smallest gap. Open-plan offices are known to be loud and distracting spaces due to a large number of people with few barriers to absorb the high noise levels. The higher level of collaboration in open-plan offices only adds to this problem.
While the energetic, pulsating atmosphere of a successful office plan is contagious, the by-product of noise is a serious problem for productivity. 53% of workers are regularly distracted by others when trying to focus. Given that the initial success of homeworking was due to the lack of distractions, enabling your people to continue this way of working will have serious benefits for your company.
Noisy offices can also increase the stress levels of workers. Prolonged exposure to loud noise leads to heightened blood pressure and increased heart rate, which impacts our physical as well as our mental wellbeing, causing further deterioration in performance.
However, collaboration is the number one reason many workers have cited as the driver behind their desire to return to the workplace, so this must not be negated, otherwise hybrid working will create the worst of both locations – the isolation and disjointedness of remote working, and the distractions of office working. Balancing the need for communication and focussed spaces in your workspace is essential.
Improving Your Office Acoustics
One of the most effective ways of increasing acoustics in your workspace is creating different designated zones for the 3 levels of collaboration: collaborative, semi-private, and private. By defining different areas of your workspaces for these different levels of interaction (with suitable furniture), you will ensure that private spaces are occupied by people who want to focus in private. The collaborative areas will also have their own atmosphere that lends itself to communication and problem solving – there is no one “right” level of noise in the workplace. It depends on your culture, the personalities involved and the project being worked on.
Acoustic furniture is also an essential part of increasing privacy in your workspace. Office pods and booths are perfect for focus spaces or meeting rooms where flexibility and privacy are key. They can be moved around your workspace as your needs change, and can even be relocated when you do, reducing the need for expensive dilapidation works. Personal acoustic workstations can create mini havens of peace and tranquillity where your staff can really block the rest of the workspace out and focus on what they need to.
By optimising the acoustic (as well as the aesthetic) design of your workspace, you are equipping your people with an environment that gives them the best possible chance to succeed. We can help you create a safe, productive, collaborative, and beautiful office space that is tailored to your people and supports your business objectives. Get in touch today to find out more.