26/03/2024 • 4 min read

Improving Focus and Privacy in the Workplace

Understanding acoustics and ratings for office partitions and pods

by Haworth, Inc.

Privacy and focus are essential in the workplace. Employees must be able to hear what they need while safeguarding confidential discussions. Common workplace concerns include noise and a lack of privacy. In this article, we'll explore strategies for managing office acoustics. These strategies aim to strike a balance that meets privacy needs.

Understanding Sound

Sound is the vibration generated as an acoustic wave moves through a space—in, around, and through objects. In the workplace, sound affects our productivity and well-being. So, it’s important to have the right levels and types of sounds in the different spaces throughout. To begin designing for, and optimizing acoustics in the workplace, we must first understand decibels (dB), the key measurement of loudness.

Decibels are not exactly like the volume indicated by a dial on a stereo. As a decibel measurement increases, the impact of the sound increases exponentially. In other words, the listener’s perception of a sound is multiplied as it gets louder. Every 3-db increase doubles a sound’s impact. For example, a 70 dB sound is approximately 100 times more powerful than one at 50 dB.

Get Our Acoustic Design Guide

Find inspiration, trends, considerations and tips for acoustically balanced office spaces in our Acoustics Design Guide.

Managing Privacy in the Workplace

Soundproofing offices is challenging due to our sensitive ears and the need for privacy. Factors like sound wave frequency, which controls pitch, and background noise influence how we perceive sound, and privacy concerns amplify the importance of sound management. Reflective surfaces increase noise, while porous materials absorb it. Effective soundproofing strategies use multiple layers of high-quality materials. Various solutions, such as dividers, lighting, rugs and phone booths, can address these challenges by controlling noise levels through surface interactions with sound waves.

An effective acoustic design takes a holistic approach by applying several solutions in various combinations to meet the needs of the space and the people in it. We refer to this as the ABCD of acoustical workspace design, or using elements that absorb, block, cover, and diffuse sound.  Loudness (dB), pitch (frequency—measured in Hz), and individual factors shape our auditory experiences. Consequently, the effectiveness of acoustic booths and partitions depends on these factors to create a quieter and more productive workspace.

Decoding Ratings: STC, NIC, and ISO 23351-1:2020

Quantifying the effectiveness of soundproofing solutions is essential for informed decision-making. Rating systems such as the Sound Transmission Class (STC) provide a standardized measures for how much sound a partition can block. A higher STC score indicates better sound insulation. Additionally, the Noise Insulation Class (NIC) offers a field measurement of overall sound insulation performance between rooms, going beyond just partition effectiveness. The introduction of standards like ISO 23351-1:2020, specifically tailored to enclosed furniture, such as booths and pods, further refines the assessment criteria, focusing on reducing user speech levels for enhanced privacy and comfort.

Benefits of Effective Acoustics

Good office acoustics offer several advantages for a better workplace. They help employees concentrate by reducing distractions, leading to increased productivity, improved communication, and collaboration. Better acoustics also lower stress levels and fatigue, boosting employee well-being. Additionally, they enhance privacy for confidential discussions.

Trends show facility managers increasingly prefer office pods, as they recognize the importance of acoustic solutions. Organizations are seeking to maximize their real estate investments, as well. This requires smart, multi-use, and agile products.

Customers are seeking cost-effective alternatives to drywall construction, which is typically found in conference rooms. Hushoffice pods stand out in the market by providing unique, flexible advantages tailored to contemporary needs. With customizable features and cutting-edge technology, Hushoffice pods deliver unparalleled sound isolation and comfort, ensuring a productive and harmonious work environment.

By understanding sound principles and strategies, utilizing high-quality materials, and employing standardized metrics like STC, NIC, and ISO ratings, organizations can effectively manage office acoustics. This will promote productivity, comfort, and well-being for their employees. Through these efforts, workplaces can cultivate environments conducive to focus, privacy, and collaboration.

More on Acoustics and Design

Excessive noise is a common employee complaint, and it can cause distractions that hurt productivity. To learn how sound travels through the workplace and which techniques can improve your office acoustical performance, visit our Acoustics page.


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