Experts estimate that around 70 percent of American employees now work in open plan offices. These modern spaces can save money on office space, increase collaboration and boost productivity, but office managers must also sometimes contend with negative side effects. Bad acoustics can cause serious disruption in a typical office. Learn more about the problem and possible solutions here.
The risks businesses face
Open plan offices break down some of the barriers between junior and senior employees and can encourage more collaborative team working, but if you make the switch to this way of working, you can introduce new business risks. These include:
- Privacy breaches. People working in certain business areas such as human resources, finance and risk management may inadvertently share confidential information with other people working nearby. For certain business types (such as companies that deal with customers' private medical data), this situation could lead to legal penalties.
- Productivity issues. It's often harder to concentrate in an open office, especially if you work near a contact center or another very vocal team. Many workers find it to hard to concentrate in a noisy environment, which could mean it takes them longer to complete certain tasks.
- Staff dissatisfaction. Employees don't necessarily enjoy this way of working. Studies suggest that open plan offices are not popular.
As such, to counter any negativity that people associate with open plan offices, office managers need to consider adaptations.
Workplace solutions to consider
Office furniture and equipment suppliers now offer a range of solutions that can help you manage acoustic problems in open plan offices. While you may not have the budget for a complete refit, there are lots of ways you can manage noise in open plan office spaces. You can consider the ABC approach, which looks at solutions that absorb, block or cover sound.
You can absorb sound in an office by making adjustments to the fixtures and fittings. For example, suppliers can install new ceiling tiles that absorb sound energy and stop unwanted noise bouncing around the office. New carpet tiles can have a similar effect. In contact centers, acoustic ceiling solutions can help you contain the buzz from your agents within a certain space.
You can stop sound traveling completely by erecting barriers in certain places in the office. Vertical barriers can block noise, and you can use solutions of different heights to manage specific issues. Panels, partitions and barriers can create smaller, quieter working spaces without contradicting the principles of open plan office space.
Sound masking systems help businesses cover unwanted noise. Suppliers generally install these systems in the space above the ceiling, where the equipment emits an unobtrusive background noise that masks human speech and other noises. You can continually adjust these systems to account for changes in volume and pitch, without interfering with the workers below.
Different furniture solutions can help you create designated spaces, too. For example, acoustic pods can create quiet spaces where people can concentrate or where you can make a confidential call without anybody overhearing you.
Even if office managers introduce one or more of these solutions, open plan offices will always rely on considerate behavior. As such, as well as investments in new acoustic solutions, it's important to instill the right culture and behaviors in your team.
- Conference call etiquette. Encourage people to use meeting or quiet rooms away from the main office if they need to attend lengthy conference calls.
- Mobile phone policies. Introduce a 'quiet zone' policy in the office that asks people to put their mobile phones on silent mode during the working day.
- Management intervention. Ask team managers to challenge annoying behaviors and manage team briefings away from areas where people are trying to concentrate.
It's important to approach the subject of office etiquette regularly in management meetings if you want to develop the right culture and working environment.
Noisy offices and bad acoustics can create risks for many businesses. Talk to local office furniture companies for advice about the acoustic treatments and solutions he or she can offer.