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Acoustics of open plan offices

We have been consulting on and researching acoustics for open plan offices since 2010.  We undertook a commission to advise on the transition of moving from cellular to an open plan arrangement.  The move from cellular to open plan has been the facilities management story of recent times, but there has been a large kick back from people subject to imposing rows of desks.  Noise is typically among the main issues of complaints according to Leesman research.  However, we must be cautious about the approach to noise in open plan offices.

Intolerance and frustration with noise in the workplace can be understood as annoyance that interferes with the ability to concentrate and work effectively.  Annoyance is closely related to the sense of control – the level of control we have over a factor is very significant when determining the level of annoyance induced.  Thus German psycho-acousticians have determined, in one study, that only about 30 – 40 % of the annoyance due to noise can be attributed to acoustic factors.  The predominant portion comes from so-called moderators of annoyance; these include the ability to control the noise, attitude towards the noise-maker, predictability of the noise event, activity profile of the employee, organisational and business structure, including identification with the business, workload, other environmental factors such as illumination and thermal comfort as well as individual noise sensitivity.

The acoustics of open plan offices is about so much more than just the acoustics. It is about the type of activities that are performed – such as individual working, collaborating with colleagues at the desk, or talking on the telephone, for example.  It is about the culture of the workplace, the relationships between people, and individual psychology; it is about the attitude to the organisation; and it is about the other aspects of the environment.

Research and dissemination

We have been disseminating our research into open plan office acoustics since the ANC Conference in 2016.  We organised a session on open plan office acoustics at the International Congress on Sound and Vibration (ICSV24), July 2017, London, and invited experts from around the world; the highlights of the papers presented are summarised in the Acoustic Bulletin.  We also presented our research in this session, on the implicit cultural expectations of other countries’ criteria for open plan offices.  We compared the implicit design implications in the emerging and established standards from Finland, France and Germany.

ISO 22955, Acoustic Quality of Open Office Spaces

We represent the British Standards Institute on the International Standards Organisation Technical Committee 43, Sub-Committee 1, Working Group 65 – known as ISO/TC 43/SC 1/WG 65.  We are developing ISO 22955, Acoustic Quality of Open Office Spaces, which is currently under development and due to be published in 2020.  Watch this space, though, as this date is outside our control.

Apex Acoustics Ltd Design Works, William St, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear NE10 0JP Head office: 0191 620 0750 Midlands: 0115 708 0750

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