Over the past few years a substantial amount of ink has been expended debating the impact of office design on employee productivity. Many of these focus on the premise that open office designs encourage collaboration and team building as employees gather formally or informally to discuss their various projects and share ideas that hopefully will lead to new products or processes.
Well-intentioned office designs to promote such interaction have not always proved successful.
A Harvard Business Review article titled “Who Moved my Cube?” reports that studies have indicated evidence that removing physical barriers and bringing people closer to one another does promote casual interactions. But, the article states, there’s a roughly equal amount of evidence that because open spaces reduce privacy they don’t foster informal exchanges and may actually inhibit them. Some studies show that employees in open-plan spaces, knowing that they may be overheard or interrupted, have shorter and more-superficial discussions than they otherwise would.
Similar findings were reported in a Time article “Workplace Woes: The ‘Open’ Office is a Hotbed of Stress.” It noted that the noise of the open office is one of employees’ chief complaints along with lack of privacy. In the latter case while conversations do take place they tend to be superficial because there are too many ears around.
What we have, then, is a distinction between noise and speech privacy. The distinction is reported in a study undertaken by The Center for the Built Environment (CBE) at UC Berkeley. Survey data were divided into subjective and objective variables. A subjective variable could be an occupant’s satisfaction with background noise level or satisfaction with the sound privacy level. In brief the study revealed that people are significantly more dissatisfied with sound privacy than (background) noise level*.
A Common Solution: Demountable Glass and Dividing Walls
Demountable glass and dividing walls provide an elegant solution to muting intrusive and distracting background noise in workspaces. At the same time they address privacy concerns that inhibit frank discussions during collaborative work sessions – or as sometimes phrased “what is said here stays here.”
As an added benefit modern floor-to-ceiling glass walls provide an office ambiance that is far more “open” than panel systems and private offices constructed entirely of high panel walls or conventional drywall construction. Properly positioned glass walls allow natural lighting, with its proven benefits to worker health and productivity, to penetrate deep into the workplace.
ALUR demountable glass and dividing walls are specifically designed to minimize the distractions of background office noise while providing the sound privacy that encourages frank discussions.
ALUR half-inch thick tempered glass delivers an excellent STC (sound transmission class) 36 rating. This effectively mutes in-workspace or teaming area conversations to the point where they cannot be understood by those on the “outside” while office background noise is kept out of private workspaces and teaming areas.
Butt-glazed floor-to-ceiling ALUR demountable glass panels are joined by 93% clear, non-shrinking, non-yellowing polycarbonate joints for noise suppression. Glass panels are supported by slim, attractively finished and non-obtrusive aluminum channels fitted with compression seals at floors, walls and ceilings. This construction technique, in addition to contributing to sound control, is exceptionally rigid – deflecting less than 0.5 inch at 50 pounds per square foot pressure meeting the 2015 International Building Code, Chapter 24, Section 2403.4 Interior Glazed Areas – an important safety fact.
Glass doors, whether swinging or sliding, also extend floor to ceiling and are fitted with seals for enhanced sound attenuation.
Options are available to provide visual privacy for glass private offices. Examples include digital images, decorative films, patterned and frosted glass, all of which contribute to privacy while allowing light transmission.
Demountable Dividing Walls
ALUR demountable dividing walls are used to separate individual offices and conference areas. They are 3.5 inches thick and produced in two configurations, both with an excellent 42 STC rating. Horizontal panels are fitted with tracks at 28.5 and 69 inch heights to support work surfaces, bins, tackboards, AV screens, whiteboards and other office furnishings. They are available in a wide variety of surface finishes and colors to add exciting decorative elements to the overall office design. Vertical panels are used as space dividers or to finish off a line of private offices and conference areas. Both configurations can be used to conceal integrated voice, power and data cabling making them as functional as they are attractive.
Add Sound Masking for Additional Privacy Support
While demountable glass and dividing walls provide excellent sound management to address both general office background noise and speech privacy there may be instances where additional protection is necessary. This can be achieved by incorporating sound masking using digital generators to create and distribute sound via speakers concealed, for example, in ceilings. The sound is broad band random that conveys no information about itself to personnel. The spectrum is shaped to provide the degree of privacy desired by office staff. Put another way sound is used to mask other sounds (office noise, conversations) to cover them up but not eliminate them. Normal conversation can occur between participants.
* Acoustical Analysis in Office Environments Using POE Surveys
Contact Mark Bassil if you’d like to learn more about the benefits of modern architectural glass walls.