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A happy, healthy workforce is ultimately a more engaged and productive one, which can lead to increased business performance. There is now a business case for acoustics and wellbeing to be consideredin the workplace, and it’s a trend that is making headlines. It’s a core principal of the new WELL Building Standard, which has been created by US-based consultants Delos and is steadily gaining importance in the design of UK office buildings. Its aim is to ensure that a building will guarantee a healthy environment for the people who work there. How can glass partitions help to create an acoustically comfortable environment which will lead to more content, and ultimately more productive, employees?

Acoustics and the WELL Building Standard

The WELL Building Standard measures human health and wellness, using evidence-based medical and scientific research to help inform better design of buildings. Put simply, WELL concentrates on the person. It addresses seven factors which can increase occupant health; one of which is comfort. Good office design has a significant impact on employee wellbeing. When sound is overlooked, it can have a detrimental effect on an employee’s ability to work creatively, collaboratively and productively. However, a well-designed workplace that solves sound transmission issues, will feel comfortable to employees and this will ultimately have a positive effect on a business’s bottom line in the long run.

Designing for Acoustics and Wellbeing

Acoustic problems are one of the number one grievances and a leading source of dissatisfaction within the environmental conditions of an office. WELL requires designers to consider shaping spaces to reduce unwanted noise and therefore enhance productivity. One of the biggest challenges in designing for acoustics is striking the balance between noise and silence. A little known fact is that acoustic privacy and comfort levels can actually suffer if background noise levels are too quiet. From the outset it’s important to use materials which will achieve good acoustics and solve any sound transmission issues. The designer must not only satisfy the legislative requirements, but should also meet the client’s requirements for privacy and reduced noise transfer between offices.

In order to manage noise, it’s important 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 preventing privacy loss from the office to external space, or from one office to another. The trend for informal, open-plan and flexible spaces can look great when compared to the more formal, enclosed and private rooms of the past. However, all this flexible working ends up having a knock-on effect: increased levels of occupation and noise levels can in turn hinder productivity.

The Acoustic Effectiveness of Glass Partitions

Consequently, there is a growing need for quiet rooms and meeting rooms where confidential conversations can take place. Glass partitions are frequently used to create offices, meeting rooms and quiet rooms because of their ability to provide good levels of sound reduction whilst at the same time allowing natural light flow and visual connectivity across a workplace. The acoustic effectiveness of glass partitions has therefore become a key factor in noise reduction.

The acoustic effectiveness of the partition is also known as the sound insulation or sound reduction performance and is 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 and the result is expressed in dB (Rw).

When glass partitions and doors are installed on-site, their performance may be affected by a number of factors. Whilst the installation may have been carried out as closely as possible to the standard and quality of that in the laboratory test, there are a number of components in a finished fit-out that can cause the apparent performance of a partition to be poorer than the specified value. This is known as Flanking Transmission and can occur through the ceiling plenum, floor plenum, curtain wall mullions and abutments, around the partition via penetrations and around the door leaf. Care must be taken on site to deal with flanking sound transmission in order to maximise acoustic effectiveness and in turn provide the best levels of acoustic comfort for the workforce.

The WELL Building Standard puts the focus on reducing physiological disruption and distraction, and facilitates comfort, productivity and wellbeing. With acoustics so important, it’s essential that specifiers strike the right balance between ambient noise and improved privacy in the modern office environment. Glass partitions help to mitigate unwanted noise levels, allowing specifiers to create private spaces for concentrated work which offer good levels of sound reduction. Addressing acoustic issues within a workplace will allow employees to feel more comfortable, which will in turn result in a happier and more productive workforce.

To find out more about noise management, acoustic performance and how to ensure you deliver on site, you can book our new RIBA Certified CPD, Understanding Partition Acoustics. Please visit our glass partition CPD seminar page.

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