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It is a well known fact that high levels of noise in an office environment have a negative impact on the organisation with respect to increased stress levels, efficiency, discomfort and ultimately the profit margins. Large and open plan offices are often particularly bad and a study by Pejtersen et al., 20061 found that ten times as many employees complained about noise in these spaces compared with those in smaller cellular office spaces. Complaints from staff usually arise from:
If noise levels in office spaces are too high then productivity will suffer because it is harder for staff members to concentrate. On the other hand, if noise levels are particularly low then speech privacy can become an issue. BS 8233 suggests that a good indoor ambient noise level within cellular office spaces should be in the range of 40 to 50 dB LAeqwith meeting rooms and executive offices in the range of 35 to 40 dB LAeq.
Privacy between office spaces requires good sound insulation and moderate background noise to mask intruding speech. The minimum level of sound insulation generally required between two offices is in the order of 38dB. Where privacy is important this rises to around 48dB, and even then it is likely that although conversation will still be heard it will not usually be understood. BS 8233 gives a rough guide where speech will be audible but not intelligible if Dw+LA>75, where Dw is the weighted level difference between rooms, and LA is the indoor ambient noise level in the room.
Controlling noise in open-plan offices
Open-plan offices are notoriously difficult to acoustically treat using only a single method. Screened work stations can be employed to give anything between 15dB and 25dB of noise reduction depending on height, spacing and local environment but other measures such as soft floor coverings, low acoustic ceilings and acoustic wall panels are often required as well.
It's a good idea to keep servers, copiers and other noisy equipment either screened off or in a separate room. The reverberation time should be low and interfering acoustic reflections from hard surfaces should be treated to improve speech intelligibility if they arrive after about 50ms.
For a range of acoustic treatment for offices click here
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