How do we reduce noise levels in the office?

It can be muffled, piercing, severe, loud… and affects 53% of the world's working population(1). What are the health consequences of noise? How can we protect ourselves from noise pollution? Find out how to improve your acoustic comfort at work.
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Noise: how to survive in open-plan offices
Working in a noisy space - above the 45 dB(A) threshold - causes fatigue, stress and lack of concentration. A good acoustic environment is therefore an essential part of protecting the health of employees and the company. So Saint-Gobain has developed an entire range of high-performance acoustic products and solutions marketed through its Ecophon, Plafometal and Eurocoustic brands.

Did you know ?

When we work in offices, we are subject to noise disruption every 11 minutes on average, and it takes more than 25 minutes for our brain to refocus on the task in hand...

Conversations between colleagues, ringing phones, and muffled noise generated by office equipment... are all sources of discomfort in the workplace. And when you think that you spend 40% of your time in that workplace, it's easy to imagine the impact that noise has on the work you do.

A full understanding of the effects of acoustics requires a little basic physics

Noise is a sound wave which will bounce off smooth and hard surfaces like windows, screens, partitions and ceilings rather like a ping pong ball. 

So in the office environment, it’s rather like a match ball of noise, especially in communal open-plan offices in which different jobs are being done in informal surroundings. Phone conversations and chatting colleagues come in for particularly close attention. “It's an old Darwinian legacy! Hearing is our main sense of early warning, which means we’re very sensitive to the frequency of the human voice,” says Yoan Le-Muet, Marketing Director at Saint-Gobain Plafonds France.

Noise affects our health in many different ways

Overhearing an intelligible conversation is all the more disruptive, since it takes the brain 25 minutes to refocus after being distracted. But these issues of concentration aren’t the only ones; according to the latest WHO studies, noise also causes problems with understanding and learning, fatigue and nervousness, stress and lack of sleep. “It’s a long list, and noise affects our health in many different ways,” stresses Yoan Le-Muet. “For companies, it also means a considerable level of lost efficiency and productivity!

Identifying the sources of noise 

The good news is that there are now high-performance solutions available to restore acoustic comfort in open working environments. But before anything else, you have to identify the various sources of noise that you want to eliminate. Is it road traffic? Noisy equipment? Conversation? “The source of noise is the decisive factor in evaluating the remedial work required,” explains Pauline Lavagne d'Ortigues, Head of Design and User Experience at Kandu. This Saint-Gobain Group company helps small and midsize businesses to optimize their workspaces. “Kandu works on the basis of qualitative and quantitative data measured in-situ using a small box packed with sensors: we call it the kandumeter. Our acoustics engineers then analyze the measurements to conduct the diagnosis analysis that forms the basis for our recommendations.”

Sometimes, buildings may require the extensive installation of acoustic insulation solutions to counter external noise. But in most cases, space reorganization, replacement of equipment and/or acoustic correction of the office space are sufficient to improve the interior acoustic comfort. 

Did you know?

Insulation is the prevention of noise from one volume to another (for example, between a meeting room and an individual office). 

Absorbing means reducing noise within the same space, as needed  in a call center, where it is imperative to reduce the noise level.

Silence from wall to ceiling!

There are many solutions to these acoustic issues, and Saint-Gobain has developed a considerable body of anti-noise expertise thanks to its ranges of ceiling, wall panels and complementary solutions marketed under the Ecophon, Eurocoustic and Plafometal brands. 

So to ensure that conversations in open-plan office spaces are not intelligible to others, it is possible to install variable height acoustic screens to reduce interaction between colleagues. It’s also possible to introduce destructured ceilings to capture low frequencies or install wall panels (Akusto Wall C, Acoustiroc®) that will limit echoes floating from wall to wall.  “We go beyond the purely acoustic considerations, and are always careful to adapt our solutions to the environment in which they’ll be used”, continues Yoan Le-Muet. 

Noise-reducing, aesthetic, impact-resistant, washable and disinfectable products

Impact-resistant partitions for schools, designer ceilings for museums and galleries, disinfectable walls for hospitals... As well as being ‘silent’, Saint-Gobain's acoustic products also offer a very high level of versatility. “This diversity remains our greatest challenge”, concludes Yoan Le-Muet. “The innovation lies in our ability to offer high-performance, recyclable acoustic solutions that can be tailored to the needs of all environments, and impose only a low level of environmental impact.” 

5 tips for a quiet open-plan office
  1. Install an acoustic ceiling to reduce noise
  2. Combined with the acoustic ceiling, adding separators (screens, partitions, etc.) reduces voice propagation
  3. Redesign the office space to avoid mixing workspaces with relaxation areas
  4. Create fallback locations: ‘phone booths’ or other dedicated spaces where you can work by yourself on tasks requiring high levels of concentration
  5. Establish a charter for the good conduct of shared space living.

 

(1) : Oxford Economics 2016; study conducted with 1200 employees and managers

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