The open office revolutionized the modern workspace, allowing for easy collaboration and cost effective design. Along with the perks, there also came challenges with this new layout, as lack of privacy, and noise distractions started to make people rethink the design of the open office.
We reached out to acoustician and LightArt acoustic consultant Zackery Belanger to better understand some challenges that can occur with the open office plan.
Be sure to check out the video we made with Zackary discussing the open office plan, Acoustical Challenges in the Modern Open Office.
Top Five Acoustics Challenges in Open Offices
1. Providing Privacy
Open offices take a pass on walls that block sound, leaving direct line-of-sight paths for sound transfer. Sound also easily reflects off hard ceilings, floors, and furniture. Achieving privacy requires a nuanced mix of full enclosures, partial enclosures, intelligent space planning, reflective and absorptive materials, and suitable background noise.
- Keeping it Quiet
Talking, HVAC noise, open kitchens, exterior sounds of traffic, thunder and rain, and even keyboard and furniture sounds: open offices invite noise. Keeping it quiet requires careful space planning, the right finish materials and sound-absorbing objects, and attention to the details of the building envelope.
3. Minimizing Distractions
Noise is always present in open offices, but with the right layout of spaces, materials, and intentional background noise it can be kept from becoming distracting. Background noise can be controlled with dedicated sound masking systems, which evenly distribute a pleasing blend of sonic frequencies.
4. Avoiding Obscure Sound Paths
Sound can find its way along unexpected paths. Hard concave surfaces like curved walls or domes can focus sound so it can be heard clearly across a room. Avoiding or mitigating such conditions requires acoustic absorption and barriers that are targeted to the unique paths of sound transfer.
- Keeping Expectations Reasonable
Open offices introduce many benefits, from collaboration to cost savings, but they come at a price acoustically. Accepting compromises and designing for the best acoustic conditions means consideration of all factors that affect sound and making informed decisions that best meet the goals of the client.
Zackery Belanger is a acoustician, researcher, and designer; founder and principal of Detroit-based Arcgeometer.