28 Jul 2020

The world has been on pause for over two months now, but finally, measures are now being taken to get us all back to work. The question now is not when it will happen, but how.

With social distancing still vitally important in the fight against COVID-19, open-plan offices have never been a scarier place to work. We have learnt to live with the noise these modern vacuous spaces can often cause if not addressed with acoustics properly at the design stage, but how will we keep ourselves safe and protected?

The open-plan office concept is highly successful for several reasons. It is cost-effective, allows room for expansion and changing team dynamics and creates more working collaboration, but apart from noise pollution, which is a primary cause of stress and reduction in productivity in these modern buildings, now we also have the fear factor thrown in which will contribute to higher levels of stress and illness, rising absenteeism and continuous turnover of staff.

Let’s look at the acoustics first to dampen down the noise to create a calm atmosphere. Most businesses with open-plan layouts will not have the budgets, especially after a massive dent in their turnover during the lockdown to suddenly start building walls, but with social distancing key, having conversations whilst 2m apart will invariably lead to louder voices, which will; of course, lead to a higher level of noise distraction across the building.

Adding acoustic solutions to counteract the noise travelling is; therefore, more essential than ever and luckily most ceilings now, even those with exposed utilities, can easily add acoustic baffles which are so very effective in the absorption and containment of noise in key areas.

No more need for heavy ceiling applications, today’s baffles are lightweight, easily installed when retrofitted and so varied in design and size that most offices will find an application that works perfectly for their space and, in these thrifty times, budget.

Let’s look at a few examples. From wavy to straight baffles, flat rafts to hollow baffles with lighting integrated, acoustic ceiling baffles are a design feature in themselves adding a calming effect both visually and aurally which will really address the issue of noise and keep these buildings working.

So, the potential additional noise pollution has been addressed, but what about safety?

Social distancing is key for us all to return to work with confidence and the peace of mind that our health is not at risk by returning to the arena. Keeping safe means keeping a distance at the moment but we all know that isn’t always possible, especially in busy sales offices and call centres, so what can we do?

Luckily, furniture and acoustic manufacturers are already looking at ways to help the nation back to work, from Perspex desktop cubes which retain the light to desks and keep the visibility, to acoustic options which not only offer protection when working at your regular station but also absorb the increased noise levels, there are already a number of solutions creeping into the market to choose from. And not only that, a lot of them are portable so if you are hot-desking, then you have the ability to take your safety net or in this instance screen, with you.

Another measure is acoustic hanging screens which have been widely used to create quiet spots and mini-meeting areas in open-plan offices. These partitions have often had designs cut out in them to add an additional interest, but it isn’t essential, and at the moment not even advisable, but with screens more prevalent than ever to stop the spread of noise and disease and with clever use of colour and application, these can be just as vibrant and interesting design features as they always were and should be seriously considered.

We are all having to rethink the way we work, but it doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be more difficult, it may even change your environment for the better to a quieter more personal and; of course, safer haven for you to work in for the foreseeable future.

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