office design of the future

Overbury 181270

Learn about office design of the future and acoustically balanced workspaces in this detailed article from Oscar Acoustics.

Future office design will need to foster collaboration while controlling noise reverberation and voice projection.  They will also require adaptable, easily reconfigured layouts.

Designers around the world are rethinking office layouts, in the hope of creating more and more flexible offices. Factoring in hygiene and social distancing requirements has huge implications on the design of new spaces and reconfiguring existing ones. With a new hybrid model of work emerging, future office design has to reflect this change.

Fewer people will be able to occupy a space at any one time leading to a shift in the role of the workspace.  It is likely to become a venue for collaboration, innovation and connecting with colleagues again.

If offices are to become hubs for collaboration, limiting noise will be paramount.  Noise has been shown to be a risk factor for both physiological and psychological health and high-quality acoustic environments remain a key health and safety consideration for building owners and architects.

SonaSpray K-13 grey at Radius Payment Solutions’ headquarters, Crewe. Space Invader Design, Overbury & Andrew Smith / SG Photography.

why future office design must retain acoustic quality

In the COVID-19 era, Health & Safety compliance for offices is being reinvented. In line with new protocols for hygiene and social distancing, the design and layout of millions of square metres of office space is being rethought across the country. Flexible offices appear to be the only way to cope, but that shouldn’t mean other elements of employee comfort – like acoustics, for instance – are compromised.

As a survey from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) confirmed in April, over a third of workers (39%) are concerned about not being able to socially distance from colleagues when back at work. Employers are investing in ways to reconfigure large, open-plan offices to protect individuals. We’re likely to see a rise in modular pods installed within open-plan spaces, and screens partitioning desks.

What will be the acoustic impact? By spacing out colleagues to ensure social distancing is maintained, there’s a risk rooms will become more reverberant, impacting on whether people can hear what’s going on. Screens will muffle normal conversation. If the overall acoustics are poor, people may be tempted to shout to be heard – not conducive to stopping the spread of germs.

20 Water Street – SonaSpray K-13 Special in white applied to ceiling for reverberation control. Tétris design x build & Jonathan Banks Photography.

office design of the future must limit voice projection

Virus transmission is increased through voice projection in enclosed spaces and protective barriers will be a feature of shared spaces from now on.  This spells an overhaul of the open-plan office.  While it will remain important, its role will be to host smaller workstations divided by design elements.

Such dividing features will include partitioning screens, cubicles and modular pods, carving larger spaces up into sections that allow individual and group work.  These will be accessible through walkways that are large enough to facilitate social distancing and do not require any surfaces to be touched.

acoustics for flexible offices

More than ever, acoustic solutions are essential. Architectural acoustic finishes on ceilings (sprays or plasters) allow designers to create calm and inviting spaces that ensure employees don’t struggle to hear or be heard. It matters, because disruptive sounds and reverberations distract and can affect physical and mental wellbeing. Our survey this year of 2,000 UK workers, found 44% can’t concentrate when it’s noisy at work. Exactly half believe noise and bad acoustics negatively affects productivity.

The benefit of acoustic spray solutions for ceilings is that they create a healthier aural environment, without compromising interior design. And there’s good news for office owners adapting to the new normal. These ceiling treatments allow complete flexibility with Cat A and B configuration and reconfiguration. Dividing structures such as screens or open-topped pods can be brought in without disrupting the acoustic spray finish applied on the ceiling above.

Taking steps to provide quality acoustics within commercial buildings, will directly improve the comfort and productivity of occupants as they return to work. Simultaneously, for the building owner, progress can be made towards meeting the WELL Building Standard®, and other essential wellbeing and sustainability design certifications.

WELL recommends the use of acoustic materials that absorb sound ‘to support concentration and reduce reverberation’. As such, ‘sound reducing surfaces’ are listed in the WELL V2 accreditation document, which confirms that two points are awarded to buildings that have undergone a specialist treatment, such as an acoustic finish.

flexible offices will be in demand

Commercial property giant JLL has poured cold water on the theory that offices will become obsolete because of the pandemic. Its latest report states:

“The function of the office will continue to evolve, accelerating trends which emphasise the importance of collaboration and innovation to employee productivity.”

There’s recognition that from an employee perspective, the office provides a place for face-to-face interactions which technology struggles to replicate. Even after the recent success of working from home, employees still state they would like to be in the office for the majority of the week.

Offering calm, acoustically comfortable, healthy buildings is now more important than ever. JLL’s report ‘The Impact of Sustainability on Value’ makes it clear that corporate buildings will be easier to lease, if they have achieved certification for wellbeing and sustainability measures.

Having analysed leasing activity for New Grade A office buildings in central London, the research found those with a BREEAM rating of ‘very good’ or better achieved higher rents than those without a rating. The average rental premium on non-rated buildings over the last three years was around 8%.

sound solutions for office design of the future

It’s clear that being able to offer a calm and acoustically comfortable workspace is more important than ever.  It is crucial to choose an acoustic system that allows for office configuration and reconfiguration as requirements shift.

SonaSpray is a recycled, fire-rated architectural acoustic finish applied to the ceiling above.  It conforms to any surface shape and the high-performance adhesive bonds to virtually all common construction materials, including plaster, wood, metal and concrete, achieving superb acoustics without design compromise.

SonaSpray allows complete flexibility with Cat A and Cat B fit-out configuration and reconfiguration.  Dividing structures can be brought in and out without disrupting the seamless acoustic decorative finish above, enabling architects to create adaptable and calm spaces where employees don’t need to shout to be heard.

a lasting trend with acoustic design

The merging of the home and workspace is being accelerated due to the pandemic, resulting in hybrid, flexible offices that combine and share elements of both.

It is clear that architects, developers, building owners and employers are all searching for ways to protect the people working in their spaces.  By focusing on acoustic design when reconfiguring offices, they can both ramp up productivity and prevent a hidden health crisis.  Existing guidelines by acoustics experts will be useful when rethinking the space, including the FIS Guide to Office Acoustics and the WELL Building Standard.

Workspaces need to be adapted so they are not only aesthetically pleasing, but calm and inviting too, enhancing the health and wellbeing of all who enter them.

For more information and technical support, please contact us.

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