Sounds created by humans are ranked highest in workplace distraction according to Alan Hedge of Cornell University, which is why it is so important to have both great sound absorption and insulation in the workspace.
The workplace landscape has witnessed several important evolutions throughout its history. Architects and designers are continuously striving to find the perfect balance between employee well-being and privacy, while still keeping a collaborative and dynamic environment.
Prior to the revolution of the open office, modular offices were the norm for most knowledge workers. In the UK, Sir Charles Trevelyan was one of the first people to consider the influence of the physical workspace and articulated the importance of separate rooms to avoid interruption and nurture concentration.
White collar assembly line
Jumping ahead to the early 20th century, architects saw the spaciousness and flexibility of an open plan as a way of liberating office workers from the confines of walled boxes. Nobly wanting to break down the modular office and help steer a more interactive and dynamic work space, the open plan office turned into an assembly line of white-collar workers.
Modularity is key
Reducing the level of distraction and the harmful effects of noise while still creating a flexible, private and engaging work environment can be a challenge. Many open plan offices have met this challenge by including meeting rooms or quite spaces where people can retreat and work on assignments that require heavy concentration. However, with modularity and moveable partition walls, other problems can arise. Noise in one room can travel above the partition walls and through the ceiling, disturbing the peace in the adjoining office. For example, room-to-room sound transmission can reduce productivity up to 7%.
Research has shown that workers exposed to open office noise are 15% less productive, they have more difficulty concentrating and they can lose up to 20 minutes a day of concentrated work due small office distractions. The use of ceilings that both absorb and insulate noise can block sound emitting from the room next door or the floor above, thus lowering distractive influences of the work place while delivering the privacy necessary for sharing sensitive information.