In recent decades, companies and office workers have embraced a new type of work environment known as the open office, replacing the once dreaded and antiquated cubicle city. Currently, the open office is the most common design for new and retrofitted workspaces across America today, with an estimated 70% of employees operating in this work environment.
These types of offices are the modus operandi for most organizations due to the assumed benefits of more transparent communication, real-time collaboration and as a result, improved workplace efficiency and productivity.
It may look sleek and collaborative, but is the open plan office the most effective layout to help spur innovation and concentration at work? From the imposing acoustics to the lack of proper distance conferencing rooms and technology, open plans are actually making employees less productive and more stressed. For the most part, people are unaware that work distractions and sound annoyances are all around them, leaving employees stuck in distracting environments for over forty hours a week. As the workplace becomes increasingly more digital, employees are battling for productivity, choosing to plug in, tune out, isolate themselves in a conference room or even work from home.
The good news: This can be corrected, and effective technologies are available today. Studies such as those by Speech Privacy Systems report that eliminating conversation distractions helped provide a 48% increase in office productivity and office workers’ ability to focus, with error rates improving 10%.
The Power of Sound
The recent Building in Sound report produced by Biamp Systems in partnership with Julian Treasure, chairman of The Sound Agency, states, “Noise is a major threat to our health and productivity – but until now we have been largely unconscious of its effects because of our obsession with how things look. By addressing noise concerns, we can transform the productivity and well-being of office workers, patients in hospitals and children in schools, among many others.”
However, poor sound is a bigger challenge than what organizations today realize. Extraneous office chatter may not be harmful to your colleague’s health, but poor sound can definitely be harmful to your team’s productivity — and your company’s budget, too. In fact, in the same Building in Sound report, research shows that urban city noise alone costs European workplace companies a collective $52 billion annually in lost productivity.
What Can Modern Offices Do Next?
As digital AV technology continues to evolve, an opportunity exists to improve health and productivity through the power of sound via modern digital systems in offices, hospitals, and schools worldwide. But while AV technology is an integral part of the solution, it’s not the complete answer to solving office productivity. In addition to providing the technical nuts and bolts, employers can do their own part to enhance acoustics throughout the office and work to remove extraneous noise sources that distract employees. Designating private rooms for public brainstorms or providing additional outlets that enable employees to plug into headphones or other noise-cancelling sessions can help, too. Installing a high-quality zoned sound system and feeding it with content that masks noise, enhances natural sounds or even distributing background music can lead to greater productivity.
Just as the rest of the world has become increasingly digital, the AV world has seen the impact of digitization and the Web. Let’s face it — businesses have improved the way its employees work over the last two decades, moving away from the fax to email and from the desktop PC to the laptop and other mobile devices. So why would we not expect similar advancements in audio-visual technology as well?
For example, a DSP (digital signal processing) platform that can manage paging, music and conference audio can transform the sound quality in a noisy office space. Companies can also greatly improve audio quality in conference rooms by selecting high-quality microphones and pairing them with a sophisticated DSP platform. (TIP: Search for an automatic microphone mixer that can tell the difference between a person shuffling paper and one actually speaking.) Value engineering the audio equipment to try to save money can cost a company vast time and money when it comes to the whole point of worker productivity.
Sound design matters. Improving sound in office spaces — as well as other key environments in healthcare facilities, educational institutions and airports — will push the limits on our ability to create better experiences and fulfill our potential as workers and members of society.
To learn more about creating a productive sound environment within your organization, contact MCC’s Audio Visual Solutions Division today!