Acoustics Can Make (or Break) Open Work Space - Transcend Commercial Real Estate Brokerage

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December 12, 2018

Acoustics Can Make (or Break) Open Work Space

Acoustics Can Make (or Break) Open Work Space

Open workspaces can be fantastic for teams that often collaborate on projects or need to chat back and forth throughout the day.

More than 70 percent of offices in America now have some work spaces with low partitions or no partitions at all, according to the International Facility Management Association (IFMA).

However, open spaces can also cause distractions, erode productivity and make it hard to focus on heads-down individual work

Modern design features such as wood, vinyl flooring, and glass, coupled with work stations made of hard composite material and exposed ceilings, have an amplifying effect on ambient sound, says Merry McCleary, CEO of audio visual firm Avyve.

“Typical sounds like someone typing on a keyboard or setting down a soda can were hardly noticeable in the past. Now with all these hard surfaces, workplaces have become very live environments that cause these sounds to be naturally amplified,” McCleary said.

To illustrate that, Avyve built two small sound rooms in their new Experience Center — one with acoustic panels and carpeting, and the other without — to demonstrate to clients the poor quality of conference calls without effective acoustic controls.

One way to solve those issues is to incorporate acoustic materials such as baffles, tiles and textured fabrics that absorb sound into the design of the space, says Gwen Kovar, an Associate at Cooper Carry in Atlanta who specializes in workplace design.

Kovar was part of the team that recently designed a new headquarters space for Transcend client Consolidated Container Company, which leases two floors at 2500 Windy Ridge. Large open work areas and polished concrete floors presented acoustical challenges, she says.

Cooper Carry used acoustic ceiling tiles from Rockfon’s dB line and Milliken carpet tiles under workstations. In client-facing areas, Cooper Carry introduced felt panels on the walls to absorb sound.

“You notice it right away when you walk in,” Kovar said. “People are talking and working and walking around, yet it feels like there’s sort of a hush over the office. You can perceive that your voice isn’t traveling very far from you.”

Acoustic systems have become so customizable that they can even play a dual role as artwork. At the RadioFlyer “Playlab” test track where children can ride bikes and other toys, TURF created wavy white noise absorbing baffles that look like clouds.

TURF baffles at RadioFlyer test track


Companies such as LightArt make light fixtures that have acoustic features, while furniture and window treatments can also incorporate noise-absorbing elements. Leafy plants and potted trees can also help muffle sounds.

There are also sound masking or sound canceling systems similar to white noise machines that can help overcome ambient noise. Transcend recently installed a 60-speaker sound masking system for a client, BioIQ, to dampen noise throughout their office.

Helping employees prepare for change is another big factor in acoustics management and transition to an open workplace, Kovar says. Creating enough private rooms for phone calls or focused individual work is critical. And when the ambient noise gets too loud, a friendly reminder goes a long way.

To learn more about how Transcend’s approach to workplace strategy can elevate your workplace, please reach out to us here.

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