This article was originally emailed as our monthly eBulletin at 11:30 on 10/10/2018. You can register here to receive them monthly.
Look at many modern workplaces and the three most common components are glass, concrete and steel. Remove the suspended ceiling, expose the HVAC and cabling, add hard flooring, create an open plan work environment and guess what you have created – an acoustic nightmare! This should really come as no shock. In much the same way we seem surprised to find that houses built on flood plains are liable to flooding, employers now look at the hard, sound-reflecting surfaces they have created and wonder where it all went wrong! Of course, the ‘perfect storm’ ingredient is the move to agile working. As personnel adapt (more or less successfully) to new ways of working, the workplace must support and encourage those changes. Commonly, too much (or the wrong sort of) noise is at the root of productivity and performance issues. Worse still, we are seeing growing problems relating to stress and mental health as a result of workplace noise and distraction. Please contact us to explore how we can help with your noise problems.
Ironically, the factors described above have created the need for cellular rooms in which to meet or concentrate! Whilst a well-managed agile working programme will provide a mix of work environments, the loss of meeting rooms, individual offices or quiet zones in general can impact productivity. A self-contained unit is therefore an effective, flexible approach to the problem. Levels of sophistication vary enormously and most manufacturers provide a range of options to suit the situation and use. Significantly, they can be reconfigured or relocated in the future to meet changing demands.
In only a few years, the individual chairs used in breakout and collaboration areas have been widely complemented by booth designs. By offering high back and fully enclosed bench seating, manufacturers combine function, comfort, practicality and acoustics. There is also a psychological benefit to the sense of enclosure that these products engender. Technology such as integrated screens, USB or inductive charging, lighting and Bluetooth connections further enhance the productivity potential. In a variety of shapes and styles, booth seating is widely available in modular form to meet operational and budget needs.
This is ‘old school’ acoustics! Before the products described above had even been invented, it was possible to hang sound-absorbing panels on the walls to reduce noise. In recent years, these hangings have increased in effectiveness, sophistication and appearance. They can now be manufactured with high resolution images, corporate branding and logos, cover the whole wall or even look like concrete! Similarly, panels suspended from high ceilings can be in any shape and size and the dizzying array of fabrics available can be used to blend them into the background or create vibrant displays. An acoustic survey will identify the issues and the best combination of approaches to the problems encountered. Contact us to find out more.
We find more and more of the problems we see in the workplace are related to stress and mental health. This can relate as much to musculo-skeletal issues as it does to acoustics and noise. Back in May, I mentioned the Return to Work site providing a free toolkit to support the process after mental health absence. More excellent (and extensive) support is available from Mental Health at Work. This site, curated by Mind and supported by The Royal Foundation, contains even more toolkits, case studies and resources, all of which can be accessed anonymously.
You may not have realised that October is Global Ergonomics Month. Or at least, I think it is! I had an email about it from the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors but there is nothing about it on their web site home page or, indeed on the home page of the International Ergonomics Association. So hurrah for global awareness!! From Google searches, I know it was in 2016 and 2017 so, just in case it is again (or we can restart it between us), please consider sharing these documents: User Centred Design: a guide for Teachers – Human Factors for Health & Social Care; White Paper – Human Connection II: ergonomics & human factors making life better. And don’t forget the book that includes my first (and only) formally published work!.