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The psychology of acoustics

Acoustical office design can have a profound effect on workers’ productivity and overall well-being.

Case study: Why acoustics in offices matter
Anne van der Walt* works in an open-plan office. Although there are partitions between the various cubicles, sound travels from one end of the office to the next. Noise levels are high, as the environment is a fusion of people talking on phones, chatting, radios and ad hoc desk meetings. She often feels distracted, becomes irritated and frazzled, which influences her productivity – especially at the end of the day when concentration levels generally tend to dwindle. “I wish the office could be less noisy and that I don’t have to listen to the incessant chatter of loud colleagues, as this would help to control my stress levels,” she laments.
Research supports Van der Walt’s perception – and frustration – of an open-plan office with bad acoustics.
* Name changed

The United States General Services Administration recently published a comprehensive guide to acoustics in the workplace. In it, they state: “Office acoustics isa key contributor to work performance and well-being in the workplace.”

The guide further states: “Having speech privacy is necessary for confidential interactions and work processes. ‘Acoustical comfort’ is achieved when the workplace provides appropriate acoustical support for interaction, confidentiality and concentrative work.”

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