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Overcoming the Open Office Conundrum with Privacy Solutions

Oct 30, 2023 | Public | 0 comments

While the open office was nearly killed by work-from-home policies during the COVID pandemic, the return-to-work movement is ushering in a rebound—making it clear that the open office isn’t dead. At least not yet.

Despite decades of research finding that open office plans may be bad for companies, bad for workers, bad for health, and bad for morale, and the fact that the open office environment actually decreases face-to-face interactions by 70%, the open office layout still reigns supreme. But with the data to back up how unproductive open offices really are, it is time to rethink how facilities can transform the open office of yesteryear and create spaces that allow people to actually do their jobs and do them well.

Understanding the Foundations of Acoustical Comfort

Based on these findings, the most important question is: How can facilities create privacy in wide-open settings? This means thinking through how to control sound levels.

To optimize office spaces, the key is implementing a combination of both sound-canceling and sound-blocking solutions. Known in the acoustical community as active noise cancelation (sound canceling) and passive noise isolation (sound blocking)—passive control involves reducing the radiated noise by energy absorption, while the active method involves reducing noise strength. These are two terms to know when it comes to homing in on the right combination of solutions to deploy.

Below we’ve broken down different ways to implement each method and the benefits of each so facilities can provide more private spaces while making spaces design-forward and aesthetically pleasing.

How to Implement Active Noise Cancelation

First and foremost, start by conducting a comprehensive noise assessment. This includes identifying the sources of noise within the office space including ambient noise, conversations, equipment, HVAC systems, or external factors. This assessment will serve as the foundation for tailoring an effective noise cancellation strategy.

It is also useful to involve employees in the decision-making process. Conduct surveys or feedback sessions to understand their preferences and how they want to work. This input can help you tailor solutions to meet the unique needs of the workforce.

Next, consider the right active noise cancellation technology; modern active noise cancellation systems come in various forms, including overhead white noise generators which emit a consistent background noise that helps mask other disruptive sounds. Secondly, providing employees with individual, high-quality noise-canceling headphones is another lower-cost alternative compared to major construction.

While these strategies are a good start, a set-it-and-forget-it approach won’t work here. Be sure to stay updated with advancements in technology or changes in the workforce to adapt and improve solutions accordingly.

How to Deploy Passive Noise Isolation

In addition to active noise canceling measures, facilities can significantly enhance office productivity by implementing passive noise isolation techniques. Take time to consider how you can segment different workspace zones to make the most of an open office. Provide a balance of quiet zones for focused work, collaborative zones for team discussions, and relaxation zones.

Modular solutions don’t have to be plain, gray, or boring. Facilities can choose from textures, colors, and patterns that take privacy solutions up a notch.

Adding customizable and modular sound-blocking and -absorbing products is one of the easiest ways to achieve different zones. Sound-blocking products like room dividers and desk dividers are easy to install and affordable compared to heavy construction like adding walls or rooms and allow for future flexibility.

Available in various colors, materials, and textures, modular products offer dynamic solutions. They can be branded with company colors, logos, or mascots, allowing for a personalized touch. Moreover, they are easily reconfigurable, adapting to changing preferences or workforce size. This flexibility ensures a seamless integration into any office space, creating an environment conducive to focused work.

Don’t Forget About Sustainability

Not all privacy solutions are created equally or are as environmentally friendly. And in the spirit of enhancing commercial spaces, sustainability should be a core principle. The good news is that many sound absorption products on the market are made of recycled plastics or felt. Acoustical panels or baffles made from recycled material offer conscious solutions for creating private zones, and they can be color-coordinated to provide natural wayfinding.

You can take the green approach literally by integrating nature-inspired materials and textures into different zones.

By incorporating sustainable privacy options, businesses can align themselves with the growing demand for earth-friendly workplaces. This not only demonstrates corporate responsibility but also appeals to a workforce increasingly attuned to the importance of sustainability.

The Return on Investment

Investing in privacy solutions for commercial spaces is not just an added expense; it is an investment in the well-being and productivity of employees. Studies have consistently shown that well-designed offices, with careful consideration for privacy, lead to higher job satisfaction and increased productivity. In turn, this translates into a more competitive and successful business. What’s more, offering a blend of environments ensures that employees can choose the space that best suits their needs, leading to heightened retention rates.

Beyond productivity, offering respite from the constant stimuli of the open office fosters comfort and mental rejuvenation, leading to reduced stress levels and decreased absenteeism and further enhancing the ROI of this design approach.

The Future of Work

As we look ahead to the future, one thing is certain: The role of the office will continue to evolve. Flexibility and adaptability will be key in creating spaces that cater to the diverse needs of a dynamic workforce. By prioritizing privacy in commercial offices, businesses demonstrate their commitment to providing a work environment that is both inviting and conducive to success. At a time when many companies are welcoming employees back to the office, reassess how to upgrade workspaces to make privacy a priority for a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.

David Ostermann is the owner of SpeedPro Irving, a Texas-based branch of the nationwide large-format printing and graphics franchise. All images courtesy of SpeedPro Irving.

The post Overcoming the Open Office Conundrum with Privacy Solutions appeared first on Facilities Management Advisor.

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