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How Acoustics Affect Workplace Productivity by Ocee Design

Friday, 10 February, 2017

Our understanding of how people function in the open plan office has evolved over the last 20 years. In particular, much research has been conducted regarding the effect of the acoustics in the workplace and how this influences productivity and wellbeing. In fact, the majority of office workers identify noise as a major concern.


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Contrary to what many believe, people are able to work effectively in both quiet and noisy environments. For example, most of us, at some point, have had to work in an aeroplane or in a noisy café, and can do so relatively easily. But what is it about the open plan office that causes us so much distraction when noise levels are comparatively low? This question has been investigated again and again, and one factor stands out as the main cause of distraction – speech intelligibility. We are able to work in a space where speech is audible, however, the clearer and more intelligible the speech becomes, the less able we are to ignore it and focus on our work.


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A good acoustic space is about the reduction of speech intelligibility where privacy or concentrated work are required, and increasing it where communication and collaboration take place. The focus should not be on reducing noise levels, but rather manipulating the clarity of the speech signal. Acoustic products should therefore be particularly effective at speech frequencies.


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This new understanding of our biggest distractor has led to the development of relatively recently adopted standard – BS EN ISO 3382-3 – which enables us to quantify the acoustics in an office in relation to speech intelligibility and distraction. By testing an open plan office to this standard, the number of people distracted by one speaker in the office can be established, as well as the level of speech at certain distances and the general rate at which loudness decreases as sound travels across the office. This powerful method of accurately assessing the quality of the acoustic environment has resulted in the development of better, more effective products, that are designed for purpose.


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Quality acoustic products provide solutions for the control of reverberation, reduction of speech level, and even systems which introduce ‘good’ sound into a space to reduce distractions. Used in various combinations, these products will improve the quality of the acoustic environment, allowing staff to be more productive and increasing worker satisfaction and wellbeing.

Choosing the correct acoustic solution requires expertise; it is important to consider the complete environment. Independent acousticians are available to offer advice or conduct on-site acoustic assessments.

Extracts from an article by Rosalind Lambert-Porter MSc MIOA MIED MInstSCE independent acoustician and advisor to Ocee Design

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