Workplace wellbeing has become part of the workplace ethos in a dynamic way. As companies are pursuing organizational wellbeing with an enthusiasm never seen before for talent acquisition and retention. Building workplace wellbeing seems to be the right thing to do for employees, plus there’s the potential for lower absenteeism and fewer medical claims. Substantial cost savings are at stake, too. For example, thanks in part to the company’s wellbeing efforts, Steelcase health insurance premiums in 2013 will increase about 3%, less than half the 7.5% increase estimated for the year by Price Waterhouse Coopers.
Office design is a multi-faceted endeavor. Not only is it beholden to the current trends in hospitality/home design, consumer behavior, well-being, and technology, it is bound to the work culture present at any given time within the office. This information drives the product design process that ultimately redefines how you work. As workspace generations constantly evolve and change over the life of your business, keeping the culture vibrant and collaborative by design remains the foundation of great office design.
A recent article by Maria Konnikova on NewYorker.com talks about the detrimental effects of open plan offices. The title of her article, “The Open-Office Trap,” shows you where she stands on the subject. She points to a study by an organizational psychologist Matthew Davis which found that “though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to:
- Attention span
- Creative thinking and
The office without an office has become an increasingly disturbing phenomenon. You may work in an office where management is scrambling to increase density in the workspace, or you may have heard an in-the-trenches story from a friend whose cubicle shrank in size overnight or disappeared altogether to be replaced by an open workbench. These anecdotes are part of a real trend. The usual amount of square footage per employee has gone from 400 square feet in 1985 to 250 square feet today.
Sound Masking is an often overlooked way to increase your office’s productivity. In the past decade, workplaces have become more open and collaborative, with lounges replacing some cubicle floors as places to do serious work. Managers have stepped out of their offices and installed their office desks in the middle of an open plan work area. While this is often a good thing, allowing colleagues free interaction and open communication, there are some drawbacks, and sound propagation is probably the biggest.
In fact, social noise levels are the principal reason behind the growing backlash against open offices. An increasing number of workers have become dissatisfied by the lack of “speech privacy” in open plan offices and studies show that these complaints have a reasonable basis. A recent TED talk cited a study from the British Journal of Psychology which found that “If you can hear someone talking while you’re reading or writing, your concentration dips by up to 66%
When software maker Autodesk created their open-plan office setup in 2009, they opted for a sound masking system to help dampen the effects of social noise. The system works by generating an almost imperceptible sound called pink noise. While the sound masking system is quiet and sounds a little bit like surf from the beach, it is carefully engineered to overlap the range of frequencies of the human voice. For three years they left it on and no one noticed that it was there. As an experiment, they turned the sound masking system off.
Charles Rechtsteiner, the facilities manager at Autodesk noted: “We were surprised at how many complaints we got. People weren’t sure what was different, but they knew something was wrong. They were being distracted by conversations 60 feet away. When the system’s on, speech becomes unintelligible at a distance of about 20 feet.”
If you are interested in a sound masking system like the one at Autodesk, we carry the exact same ones.
There is much that you can do beyond sound masking to help manage the social noise level in your workspace. Many open plans are thrown together quickly without working with a designer to factor in sound considerations. Aside from mixing new and used office furniture to get the style you want, another great way to maximize the value of your office furniture is to work with one of our Design Experts to ensure a well-conceived layout. Meanwhile, many of our products incorporate built-in noise paneling and sound dampening features. Ask one of our Furniture Consultants how we can help you to select and configure an open plan office that minimizes needless social noise and maximizes your productivity.
Trends in office furniture styles and layout have changed radically in the last ten years. Cubicles with high walls that gave employees quiet and privacy have gone out the window in favor of the open plan office which encourages collaboration between employees. There is currently a backlash to this trend, however, from people in the workplace who are dissatisfied with the lack of “speech privacy” and a drop in productivity due to the open office noise levels. Modular offices with doors can offer an affordable solution.