The problem with communicating in an open floor plan office

Today, business is about collaboration. This means mind-sharing with individuals beyond the office, in cities or even countries around the globe.  Effective communication between the vested parties is essential.  This generally starts in a meeting space known as a huddle room and the communication medium is either a telephone conference call or video conferencing system. This is sometimes in an enclosed room, but more often than not, a huddle space is merely a table in the middle of an open office floor plan.  

With the advent of open-space offices, what were once relatively quiet environments have now become ‘energy-filled’ rooms where sounds from conversations permeate all areas. When those in the meeting are on the phone, voices are raised in order to compensate for the ambient noise as a natural means to be heard above the din. As one voice escalates, so does the other and next thing you know, the problem self perpetuates to the point of no return.  This is just one part of the problem: following standard building practices, most office spaces are made up of hard surfaces such as gypsum walls and ceilings, windows, doors, tiled floors or poured concrete with thin industrial carpet.  The sound of voices are intermixed with other polluters such as the noise from ventilation systems, photocopy machines and nearby traffic. All of these sounds reflect off of the hard surfaces, back into the room and elevates the ambient noise to yet another level.  The office becomes an uncomfortable and stressful place to work.

Whether communication is done via telephone or video-conferencing system, the process is the same: the message is being transmitted using a microphone and microphones are nowhere near as smart as the human auditory system. Think of being in a noisy bar or a rock concert where the sound pressure levels are extreme. Somehow, you are still able to communicate. Our ears and brain are amazing devices that enable us to discern what is important and what is not by combining various clues such as the time it takes for a sound to arrive at one ear and then the other, lip reading and body language. When the message passes through a microphone, all of this information is lost.  The microphone simply takes in whatever arrives at the diaphragm and passes it along. At the receiving end, the loudspeaker reproduces everything that is captured and the brain is no longer able to separate the ‘wanted message’ with the ‘unwanted noise’. For this very reason, broadcasters have been acoustically treating their studios for nearly 100 years. There is no point in broadcasting a show if the listener cannot comprehend what is being said.

How can Primacoustic help you?

The solution is simple: reduce the ambient noise by covering between 15% and 20% of the wall surface area with 1” thick Broadway™ acoustic panels.  Broadway panels are made from high-density 6lb pcf glass wool that are fully encased in micromesh and resin hardened edges. The panels are then covered in an acoustically transparent polyester tweed fabric or in a white Paintable finish that enables them to be repainted on site to match the room décor.  Panels are mounted to the wall surface using Impalers™. Installation is as easy as hanging a picture. Sound waves penetrate the panel and cause the minute fibers to vibrate, essentially converting acoustic energy into heat.  Should wall surface areas be limited, Cloud Paintables™ or Saturna™ baffles offer a ready alternative that may be suspended from the ceiling using adjustable SlipNot™ aircraft wires. These are doubly effective as they absorb both the direct sound and the sound as it reflects off the ceiling.

If the office space is decorated using a T-bar ceiling system, ineffective fiber-board ceiling tiles are easily replaced with high performance StratoTiles™. These employ the same high density glass wool construction for maximum absorption and are easily retrofitted without the need for special tools.  Should noise from offices, hallways or manufacturing areas be a problem, ThunderTiles™ combine a heavy layer of sound-blocking gypsum board with high density glass wool to stop noise from travelling through the plenum above the T-bar ceiling into adjacent spaces.

Once in place you will immediately notice a significant reduction in the ambient noise level and sounds from one area will not traverse the room as they did before. This will make it much easier for the microphone in the huddle space to perform its task, which in turn will significantly improve communication.

Executive Summary

  • Noisy environments make it difficult to communicate
  • A microphone cannot discern between message and noise
  • Treat 15% to 20% of the wall surface with Broadway acoustic panels
  • The noise level will dramatically lower throughout the office
  • Communication over the phone or video system will be enhanced
  • Create a more comfortable and less stressful working environment