Open Office Plan Breaks the Sound Barrier(s)

April 29, 2002
Dow Carpet Column - Part 2 of 3
Office walls have been steadily coming down over the past three decades in response to evolving needs in the workplace. In addition, companies have invested heavily in new technology, all with expectations of greater productivity and positive impact on the bottom line. However, the intended benefits have not been fully realized, and the cost is significant. This is reinforced in “The Ergonomics Edge” by noted ergonomics consultant Dan MacLeod, CPE, which includes a rule of thumb equating one-minute of time per day in the workplace to a value of roughly $500 over the course of a year. When multiplied across a company’s workforce, it is clear that even small improvements in productivity can be economically attractive.

In many cases, potential gains have been offset by productivity penalties due, in part, to a much greater complexity of acoustical issues. The results of the ASID study suggest that the problem is widespread. In fact, an alarming 70% of the respondents felt their productivity would increase if workspaces were less noisy. Underscoring the problem, a follow-up study found that 81% of business executives were unaware of the issue and unconcerned about office noises. Apparently, the complaints of the workers are being lost in the din of the office.Some now see the open office as strictly an economic play, providing a vehicle for cost and space savings at the expense of occupancy quality. Others maintain the original vision of positive cultural changes and employee satisfaction. Whether the rationale is to promote better teamwork or simply to increase the number of people per square foot, open office layouts and the associated noise issues aren’t going away any time soon. It is a situation that demands attention, a view shared by many including Case Runolfson, CFM, Vice President of Facilities Management for Irving Group in Washington, D.C. Mr.  Runolfson recently commented on the situation, stating that, “Effective sound suppression is the most difficult challenge remaining in the open seating plan work environment.” With an eye towards solutions, he noted the benefits of a properly specified carpet-cushion composite from the perspective of both acoustic management and the improved carpet appearance retention and life cycle.

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