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18 December 2018
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6 November 2017 | Julian Treasure

Julian Treasure, founder of The Sound Agency, discusses the true cost of noise in the office

Dead silence can be an intimidating working environment. Some sound is generally desirable: the gentle, babble of colleagues speaking, one’s choice of music or the sounds of nature coming through an open window.

But much of it is undesirable; phones, electromechanical sound, other people’s music.

In built spaces there are two forms of sound conduction. Airborne sound comprises sound generated within a room and transmitted through the air; talking, typing, walking and moving objects; phones; noise from heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) plant, printers, and sound systems.

Structure-borne sound comprises sound generated by a physical impact on the building and transmitted through its structure –typically including footfalls on the floor above and vibrations from HVAC plant.

We measure the quantity of sound in decibels (dB), a logarithmic scale where an rise of 10dB is perceived as a doubling of the sound level, or a reduction of 10dB as a halving. 30dB is a bedroom at night; a typical office is around 50-60dB. 

A poorly designed open office is a recipe for bad acoustics. Gensler’s 2013 Workplace Survey says people spend half their time in offices doing tasks requiring focus. Most struggle to concentrate in open-plan offices that were designed for collaboration. While people can habituate to constant, unvarying noise, sudden noise detracts from worker productivity. Prof Gloria Mark of University of California, Irvine, says it takes people 23 minutes to regain focus.

Architects and designers use hard materials because these look stylish and are durable, but they often don’t understand the effects of this kind of design. Bad acoustics increase noise dramatically.

Conversely, good design that takes into account visual aesthetics, sustainability, value for money and acoustic effect can achieve the perfect balance for workers’ health, effectiveness and happiness.

Originally published on http://blog.interface.com/true-cost-workplace-noise

Julian Treasure is a sound and communication expert and founder of The Sound Agency