ACOUSTIC COMFORT IN THE WORKPLACE: WHY IT MATTERS
ACOUSTIC COMFORT | The Final Frontier…
"Acoustic comfort is not just about what you hear, but how you feel. It's the embrace of sound and silence that nurtures our well-being and inspires greatness".
When we think about designing a comfortable workspace, we generally think of ergonomic chairs, adjustable desks, and good lighting. But there's one crucial factor that often gets forgotten in the pursuit of ultimate comfort: "ACOUSTIC COMFORT."
Now, you might be wondering, what exactly is acoustic comfort? Well, it's about the atmosphere and vibe of a space, and how it affects our ability to be productive. It's not just about hearing and understanding what's being said; it's about feeling connected emotionally! That's why acoustic comfort is incredibly important for creating a workplace that is comfortable, productive, and promotes our overall well-being.
WHAT’S YOUR PICK?
Imagine walking into an open-plan office where the sounds are perfectly balanced, neither too loud nor too soft. The gentle hum of conversation is present, but it doesn't overwhelm your thoughts. You can easily understand what your colleagues are saying without straining, and your voice carries just the right amount of clarity.
On the other hand, picture yourself in a workspace where noise reigns supreme. Conversations overlap and overwhelm into an incomprehensible jumble, and important messages get lost in this chaos. The constant barrage of distractions makes it challenging to concentrate, and frustration starts. It's like trying to have a conversation in the middle of a bustling marketplace—it's exhausting, right? So, what should architects, designers, and project planners do to ensure that their projects deliver the optimum acoustically comfortable workplace environment?
STEP-1: ACOUSTIC PLANNING
Is it possible to achieve this auditory utopia? Well, it starts with thoughtful design. But before jumping into the design process it is important to identify sources of noise. Internal noise sources can be equipment and people while sound seeping in from outside (such as road traffic, a nearby school or a train station, or an airport in proximity) can cause unprecedented annoyance.
It matters to conduct site assessment during planning in the design phase to identify sound leakage, which can be either when sounding from outside the office space enters in, or sound from within the office space ‘leaks’ out into adjacencies. A lack of sound control within the space is also an indicator of poor acoustic planning, as a lack of acoustic segregation within the workspace can cause commotion and undermine productivity.
STEP-2: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!
The key question that baffles project planners is why issues revolving around acoustic comfort arise. One reason could be site selection. Having your business setup, education center, or clinic under a fly-zone may cause a hindrance to your acoustic comfort. Even the sounds of a bustling city could negatively impact the ease of your employees, students, or customers. In circumstances like these, the use of appropriate sound control measures, such as glazed windows or sound-insulated walls is less of a luxury and more of a necessity.
In an ever-urbanizing world, finding a location that is both central and comfortable is a hard ask, which is why more architects and designers are beginning to recognize the importance of acoustic comfort.
Illustration: Continuing Professional Development Certification CPD 13 2022: cpd.building.co.uk/
STEP-3: ACOUSTIC DESIGN
When it comes to designing a workplace with exceptional acoustic comfort, it is crucial to carefully assess the desired privacy levels in each distinguished space. This assessment helps in developing precise isolation design criteria, which are fundamental for achieving optimal acoustic performance. To determine these criteria, there is a wealth of resources available, including local and international design standards, as well as industry best practices.
A notable resource that deserves attention is the "BCO Guide to Office Specification 2019" by The British Council for Offices (BCO). This comprehensive guide dedicates an entire chapter to acoustics, offering invaluable insights into creating workplaces that prioritize sound quality.
In addition to local standards, international guidelines play a vital role in shaping workplace acoustic design. For instance, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed ISO 3382-3, which provides comprehensive guidance for evaluating the acoustic quality of open-plan offices. This standard emphasizes factors such as speech intelligibility and privacy index, setting internationally recognized benchmarks for acoustic excellence in the workplace.
By adhering to industry standards and implementing recommended practices, we can elevate the acoustic environment of our workspaces. This not only enhances privacy and speech intelligibility but also contributes to the overall well-being and productivity of individuals. Acquiring the services of a qualified acoustic design consultant can pay off when it comes to making things just right from both the project’s budget and the project’s overall success.
WHY PRIORITIZE ACOUSTIC COMFORT?
Numerous studies have shown that a high level of acoustic comfort in the workplace reduces stress, improves productivity, and increases perception and problem-solving ability. Roskams et. al. (2019)  also highlights the importance of acoustic comfort when aiming to avoid mental fatigue and risks of error. If you have ever been put in a situation where your employees or co-workers are making rudimentary mistakes in menial tasks such as data entry and drafting, a lack of acoustic comfort may be the culprit.
What’s most interesting about dedicating your life to the study and implementation of acoustical solutions is that good acoustics usually go unnoticed; it is only when the noise level or reverb within a room is under par does it become noticeable. This is largely because comfort, for any person, is the standard. And a good sound is at its best when it is comfortable.
We’ve always stood by the notion that prevention is better than cure, and preventing bad acoustical layouts, or remedying issues that fall through cracks in design is what gets us acoustical enthusiasts up in the morning. So, if you're looking to create a more comfortable and productive workplace, don't forget about the importance of acoustic comfort.
This article has been written by Aryaan Asad Lalani and reviewed by Asad Lalani (Principal Consultant Acoustics & Audio)