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Productivity, well-being and happy employees are all key considerations in the ideal office environment, but when sound is overlooked in office design it can present a lot of difficulties in the long term. High on the list of annoyances in the workplace, noise can change people’s behaviour and is a cause of work-related stress. With sound management so essential, what steps can designers and specifiers take to create an office environment which is quieter, whilst at the same time offering the right level of ambient noise and improved privacy?

The acoustic performance of office fit-out projects has become a key priority and, like lighting, should be an integral part of good architectural design. When it is done well, it is a significant contributor to the well-being and productivity of the office employee.  Interestingly, acoustic privacy and comfort levels are often actually made worse if the background noise levels at workspaces are too quiet, proving that striking the balance between noise and silence is key to designing a successful work environment.

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From the outset it’s important to use materials which will achieve good acoustics and solve any sound transmission issues. The designer must also meet the client or end user’s requirements for privacy and reduced noise transfer between offices.

With informal, open-plan and flexible spaces replacing the more formal, enclosed and private rooms of the past, the office has seen significant changes in recent years.  This flexible working ends up having a knock-on effect – increasing the level of occupation, upping noise levels, which in turn hinders productivity. There is, however, a growing need for quiet rooms and meeting rooms where confidential conversations can take place, which is why the acoustic effectiveness of glass partitions has become a key factor in noise reduction.

So how do we manage the noise? We need to look at both keeping the noise out and keeping the noise in. In other words, we need to prevent noise intrusion from a busy circulation space into a private office, whilst at the same time prevent privacy loss from the office to external space or from one office to another.

The acoustic effectiveness of the partition is also known as the sound insulation or sound reduction performance and measured by the sound reduction index (SRI). This is the ability of a partition to reduce the level of sound passing through it. The SRI is measured by testing a partition sample in an acoustic laboratory in accordance with EN ISO 10140-1 and 2. The result is expressed in dB (Rw) in accordance with EN ISO 717-1 and allows specifiers to compare similar partitions.

Furthermore, it’s also important to consider the acoustic performance of doors and ensure they have been fitted with efficient acoustic seals. Flanking sounds through floor or ceiling voids are another factor and can occur if partitions do not extend to the floor slab above, or alternatively, if ceiling void acoustic barriers have been installed, but have not been correctly sealed around services penetrations.

Acoustics can often be seen to be a ‘black art’ of confusing terms and specialist jargon, but when it comes to the design of offices, acoustic design has never been more important. To achieve good acoustic standards and solve sound transmission issues requires the same level of attention as other design elements.

To find out more about managing noise, what performance is needed and how to make sure you deliver on site, Optima has produced a new, RIBA Certified CPD seminar entitled ‘Understanding Partition Acoustics’. To arrange for us to present a CPD seminar at your offices, please click here.

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