Designing for Acoustic Control in a Modern Office

The open-plan office isn't as modern as you may think. Originating in Germany in the 1950’s, the open-plan office has been subject to much debate on productivity and suitability for the action-packed work environment.

After half a century of widespread acceptance that open-plan is the inevitable end point in office evolution, it's about time that we answer the questions about the suitability of the modern office.

Yes, the open-plan office has its downsides; noise levels and distractions are obvious issues that bring the modern office into critique. The true answer isn’t to simply eliminate these issues by putting up walls and dividers, but to understand how people use their space, and the amount of time they spend doing different activities. By understanding the activities and user experience we can start to define how the office should be set up. The best offices are laid out with people in mind, creating a space conducive to their roles.

Work zones

A recent study has identified the three main types of work activity that take place: focused work (70%), collaboration (23%), and socialising (7%). These different behaviours require different 'Work Zones'. A focused zone requires a quiet, naturally lit, temperate environment that has minimal distraction; a collaborative zone needs a space conducive to loud talking, discussion, and even some passionate yelling.

Rather than an open-plan office where staff have their own desks, they should be working in a free moving system where they can go sit in the right zone for the type of work activity they are about to take part it in.

To create these zones, visual and acoustic barriers need to identify a definitive line between the zones. Acoustically, the focus zone needs to have high absorption. However, a collaborative zone needs to manage a high noise level while eliminating sound transfer, so staff members can work loud without disrupting others. The social zone also requires complete sound absorption as to not affect other areas.

The solution

Because of these different types of acoustic control it is important to design offices with acoustics in mind from the beginning. This gives you the ability to create ideal work zones in your office.

Feeling puzzled about open plan offices? Autex Industries are world leaders in interior acoustic design and will work with designers or architects who are looking for specialised knowledge on aesthetically pleasing interior acoustics.

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