Kurt Tucholsky already knew: “Noise is the noise of others”. Many workers in the office would subscribe to this sentence. Open office structures and the use of sound-reflecting materials such as glass or concrete promote poor room acoustics. If you want to promote the ability to concentrate and keep your employees healthy, you should consider the (room) acoustics in your planning.
Sound screen: Acoustic design in office
The first thing to do is to take measures to positively influence the reverberation time. To put it simply, this is the time it takes for the sound to become inaudible. If it is too long, the room appears reverberant, which is particularly annoying during telephone calls or video conferences. In addition, rooms with a long reverberation time are quickly perceived as too loud. If the reverberation time is too short, the auditory impression is unpleasantly muffled, and speech can then be understood well even at greater distances.
Thus, the reverberation time also influences the second important parameter of acoustics in the office, the intelligibility of speech. In rooms where several people are working, it often becomes a problem. If the speech intelligibility is too low, for example because it is too loud in a room as a whole, it becomes difficult to understand colleagues. If it is too high, every word spoken in a room can be heard over long distances. Concentrated work is then no longer possible. The Speech Transmission Index (STI) is usually used to measure these effects. This will be discussed later.
Effect of individual measures
The best way to reduce speech intelligibility is to shield the workplaces from each other. Partition walls can be used for this purpose, but also cabinets that are placed between the individual workstation groups. At the same time, this furniture can serve to give the individual employee a feeling of better privacy. If the line of sight between certain workplaces has to be maintained, movable walls made entirely or partly of transparent materials can be used.
The positive effect of screening on speech intelligibility in office spaces has been proven. However, not all measures have the same effect. For example, for the acoustic shielding of desks facing each other, a simple table top is of little use. The best results are achieved with screens standing on the floor at a height of 1.40 m or more, enclosing the workstations on three sides and simultaneously covered with sound-absorbing materials. Cabinets with fabric rear walls, for example, are suitable for separating workplaces that are further away from each other.