How Acoustics Plays a Role in Workplace Health

June 8, 2018

A healthy workspace is a happier, more productive environment. Without unified metrics or expectations to determine a healthy workspace, definitions can vary. This means measuring success is difficult for facility managers and designers creating the space.

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Daniel Verlooven, Global Acoustics AmbassadorDaniel Verlooven, Global Acoustic Ambassador at BuzziSpace, spoke at NeoCon 2018.

Verlooven would like to see written regulations that measure a healthy workspace. This would help designers and facility managers develop the same understanding about what health and wellbeing in the workplace mean. “With clear and realistic expectations of what is needed and why, it will be easier to put into action,” he says.

A healthy office environment needs three elements: light, sound and air. Verlooven notes that from an evolutionary perspective it’s human nature to be outside, and by bringing these outdoor elements inside, people will be healthier and happier. Improving these three elements will decrease work distractions and increase productivity.

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Role of Acoustics in Office Productivity

Office workers are 66% less productive in an open-plan office than when left on their own, notes Julian Treasure, Chairman of The Sound Agency. Acoustics, Verlooven says, play a key role in creating a healthy sound quality and help with the overall health of workers. Examples of acoustic distractions include:

  • HVAC noises that get into our core and sedate us
  • High-frequency sounds like keyboards or mechanical issues that can make us nervous
  • Other workers talking where it can’t be tuned out

A positive acoustic experience that absorbs surrounding sound leads to a quieter, more respectful and energetic workspace and can reduce stress and absenteeism from work.

A positive acoustic experience can reduce stress and absenteeism from work.

“People say they had a hard day at work, but many times it’s from the environment around them,” Verlooven says. “This is something we should take seriously.”

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He suggests more education and knowledge around the role acoustics play in health. Architecture firms and designers should attend seminars so they can talk to building owners and facilities managers about this. “We all need to have awareness and prioritize good acoustics, light and air,” Verlooven notes.

Testing Acoustics

While many people know what decibels and sound are, they don’t know what products to use, how many square feet a product covers or what can minimize sound. Some manufacturers offer tools that facilities managers and designers can use to help determine the right products for a space. By measuring reverberation in a room, the right acoustics level can be determined.

“There are a lot of tools already available, so you can’t say you don’t know what to do or how to handle sound issues,” Verlooven says.

In an office setting, he recommends a large, open space be below 70 dB, and background noise from mechanicals and speaking to be around 45 to 55 dB to keep people happy and healthy. With this information, people can get the right products to tackle the specific acoustic issues for the space.

Verlooven would like more awareness of the role acoustics places in workplace health.

“I hope one day there will be real regulation on background noise. I would like see every noise associated with a specific activity to have its own recommended range and regulation.”

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About the author
Valerie Dennis Craven | Director of Editorial Services, Editor-in-Chief of interiors+sources

Valerie is an experienced journalist with an emphasis in the B2B market. As the director of editorial services and editor-in-chief of interiors+sources, she leads the editorial staff in producing the monthly print magazine, coordinates topics for the newsletter and online, and contributes relevant content.