Acoustics expert: Talking disturbs the most – this is how you fix the sound environment at work

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Published: March 7, 2023, 12:09 p.mJoachim Schubert who is an acoustics expert at the company Akustikverkstan. High noise levels and a cacophony of different conversations are common sources of irritation in the office. It can also affect both work performance and well-being. But with the right methods and products, it is possible to improve the sound environment.Reduce the noise level in the office with absorbents from AJ Produkter Sometimes you work best when it’s dead quiet around you. In other situations, a social buzz can spark creativity. It is not an easy match to achieve a good sound environment in an office. But it is an important task, notes Joachim Schubert who is an acoustics expert at the company Akustikverkstan. – There are studies that show that up to 30 percent of everyone who works in open offices is greatly disturbed by noise and that this in turn affects the work effort. Disturbing noise can make us lose focus, become less efficient and more stressed. It also affects how we act in social situations, he says.

Talking disturbs the most

What is experienced as an optimal sound image varies. The acoustic workshop has clients ranging from offices to schools, infrastructure projects and car manufacturers. Sometimes the task is to reduce noise. In other cases, it is about creating a pleasant soundscape. – There is no limit to how much you can learn and how fine calculation models you have. But at the end of the day, sound is about people. The experience is subjective. I remember when I told two New Yorkers about how nice it is to be out in the Swedish nature. Instead, they found the calm to be scary, says Joachim Schubert.Sound spreads out like waves in water, and reaches us both directly and through reflections in, for example, walls and ceilings.  Against hard surfaces, the sound waves are reflected and bounce on.  Soft surfaces, on the other hand, absorb some of the sound, which means that the sound level in the room is lowered.Sound spreads out like waves in water, and reaches us both directly and through reflections in, for example, walls and ceilings. Against hard surfaces, the sound waves are reflected and bounce on. Soft surfaces, on the other hand, absorb some of the sound, which means that the sound level in the room is lowered. But for the experience of sound in the office, there is at least one common denominator: the most disturbing thing is hearing other people’s talk and conversations. Especially in open office environments, it can be a problem when sound is allowed to spread freely in the room. – If you can see the mouth of someone in your office environment, you can be sure that the sound from that person will reach you.

Interaction between the building and the interior

With an activity-based office, where the employees choose the workplace according to the task, the conditions are better for good acoustics, says Joachim Schubert. Meeting places or individual departments where the noise level is higher can be positive for creativity. One of his guiding principles is that you should start from what you want to achieve and then adapt the measures accordingly. – When it comes to the part of ergonomics that deals with movement and sitting, you can go down to the individual level and adjust, for example, desks and chairs. But if you work with sound, you have to adapt the entire area around the individual. It requires collective measures in an interaction with the building and the interior.

Different sounds – different solutions

When they want to improve the sound environment in an office, Joachim Schubert and his colleagues usually start by looking at the false ceiling. In order to dampen sound, it should ideally consist of a layer of at least four centimeters thick of stone wool or glass wool with an air gap behind. If there is no acoustic suspended ceiling, the first measure is often to insert one. The next step is to see if there are hard walls against which the sound can bounce. A solution could be to install sound absorbers on some walls. – In order to have an effect, the sound must come in at the same time as the material needs to be packed tightly enough. Sound absorbers are usually a porous filling covered with fabric and they are available in everything from simple variants to pure sculptures.The ceiling makes up a large part of a room's surface.  A prerequisite for creating a room with good conversational acoustics is therefore an acoustic suspended ceiling.  To break the sound reflections between the walls of the room, sound absorbers can be placed in strategic places on the walls.The ceiling makes up a large part of a room’s surface. A prerequisite for creating a room with good conversational acoustics is therefore an acoustic suspended ceiling. In order to break the sound reflections between the walls of the room, sound absorbers can be placed in strategic places on the walls. By working with the ceiling and the walls, you can remove reflective sounds. But to reduce the spread of sound in the room, you also need to put up screens in the right places. – But you shouldn’t forget that offices can actually be too quiet too. If only a few people sit in a large and open office, they will hear each other better. It is if you perceive the content of a conversation that you are disturbed. With a masking murmur, it is easier to focus, says Joachim Schubert.Get a better sound environment – let AJ Produkter’s experts help you furnish the office

Joachim Schubert’s tips for better acoustics in the office:

Acoustic false ceiling is A and O“It is so important to have an acoustic suspended ceiling, because otherwise the sound will be reflected and spread further in the room.”Choose the right sound absorber for the walls“To dampen sounds with a lower frequency, such as bass, the sound absorber needs to be thick. If you have a thin absorber, you only dampen the higher frequencies.”Sound absorbing curtains“For the best effect, the fabric should be thick and the curtain should hang a bit from the wall and preferably be pleated.”Consider the location“If someone in the office talks louder than everyone else, that person should not sit in a corner. There are more walls, which gives more reflections and amplifies the speech.”Start at the right end“The fastest way to get rid of a noise problem is to get rid of the noise source. If disturbing noises come from, for example, a printer or a coffee machine, the easiest thing may be to move them.” The article is produced by Brand Studio in collaboration with AJ Produkter and not an article by Dagens industri

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