The world of work has experienced a seismic shift in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the number of hybrid and remote workers skyrocketed since before the pandemic, with nearly 60% of professional workers holding a Bachelor’s degree or higher working remotely at least part of the time as of autumn 2022. At the same time, 95% of professional workers express the desire for hybrid or fully remote opportunities, and 74% of business leaders indicate that they expect remote work to soon become the permanent “new normal.”
What this means is, as workers continue working part-time in their home offices, the amount of commercial real estate being used is rapidly shrinking. To illustrate this point, in New York City, the nation’s largest commercial real estate market, commercial property values are expected to decline by more than $56 billion from pre-pandemic levels by 2029.
It’s not just the lingering impact of the pandemic that’s causing the decline. Protracted economic instability and increasing fears of a global recession have contributed to massive layoffs, surging inflation and interest rates, and, consequently, a dramatic rise in commercial real estate prices. In 2022, the average cost to rent a commercial space in Los Angeles rose to $40.76, marking the 12th consecutive year of rising rates. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, the price to rent a premium office space topped $100 per square foot in 2022.
It’s not only the perfect storm of a shift toward hybrid and remote work and the rapidly rising commercial rents that are causing tremors across industries. It’s also the growing tide of job cuts, particularly in white-collar sectors. For example, In 2022, the tech sector cut more than 150,000 jobs, and more than 50,000 additional layoffs in the tech industry were announced in January 2023 alone.
Ultimately, this means that companies across industries are looking to streamline and downsize. Fast. That includes responding to the surge in commercial real estate costs by decreasing the size of their physical campuses or eliminating auxiliary sites.
Yet shrinking your business costs by decreasing your company’s physical footprint can come with unexpected costs. More compact and, therefore, more crowded spaces can contribute to significant noise pollution. This, in turn, can have a severely detrimental impact on the health, happiness, productivity, and performance of employees.
Fortunately, downsizing doesn’t have to mean consigning your employees to a cacophonous workplace. You can, in fact, create a corporate environment that is small in size but big on acoustics, one where tighter and more crowded quarters don’t have to mean chaotic noise.
Designing for Efficiency, Cost-Effectiveness, and Acoustics
Believe it or not, there can be a big upside to downsizing. When you’re downsizing your physical location, or you’re planning other alterations to make your business more cost-effective and efficient, you have an invaluable opportunity to introduce acoustic treatments into your physical office space.
Not only will this make the work environment more pleasant for your employees and clients alike, but, research has shown, it’s also likely to increase your workers’ ability to learn, process, and recall new information (1, 2, 3). Likewise, there is significant evidence that chronic noise exposure in the workplace is linked to serious mental and physical health risks, including an increased vulnerability to heart disease and dementia, as well as to anxiety and depression (4, 5) and proactively improving the sound environment will reduce these risks.
The risk of decreased performance, job satisfaction, and overall health and well-being appears to be especially significant for professionals working in open office or open floor plan environments (6). For employees who are returning to the office after a period of working from home, the shock may be even more serious. Likewise, though relatively little is yet known about the effects of a hybrid work schedule on the health and performance of workers, it may be surmised that the frequent transitioning from a private home workspace to a public office, particularly one with an open floor plan, could pose challenges.
It is possible that any gains to efficiency or cost created by downsizing may quickly be consumed by the losses attributed to noise pollution in a smaller and more crowded workspace. However, those potential losses can be avoided if proactive measures to create a healthy and productive sound environment are taken. Indeed, it’s likely that quality acoustics will yield even greater increases in efficiency, performance, and the overall well-being of your employees than you could have otherwise imagined.
Sound Mitigation in Compact and Open Office Environments
Office spaces, no matter their size and layout, always pose a challenge for acoustic designers. Office spaces, by definition, are meant to provide spaces conducive to concentration, learning, thought, and creativity. They’re meant to enable high-level, independent work.
At the same time, they’re also intended to provide spaces for effective communication and collaboration. They’re not meant to be silent cloisters but rather sites where colleagues can congregate and speak with one another, clients, and stakeholders.
That means there is always a multitude of sound sources filling the space, from background chatter to phone calls and video conferences. And then there are the other ambient noises, from the clacking of keyboard keys to the sounds of chairs moving and desk drawers opening.This means that an effective sound treatment strategy must be designed to minimize unwanted noise while amplifying and directing meaningful sounds. Employees need to be able to detect the sound of a phone ringing or a cell phone buzzing, no matter what is going on in the office space.
Above all, they need to be able to perceive and understand speech, whether on the
phone, computer, or face-to-face. They also need to be able to make themselves heard without shouting. This is a particularly salient concern when sensitive conversations are to be had or private data is to be shared among some, but not all, in an open office environment.
All of this is made possible through sound mitigation. At the heart of sound mitigation is the effort to absorb, diffuse, and break up sound waves to reduce or eliminate noise pollution.
But sound mitigation doesn’t end with noise reduction. You want to be able to hear meaningful conversations in desired areas while preventing these sounds from entering spaces where they’re not wanted. For example, the ability to hold a private conversation with a client or colleague is essential in business, even when you’re working in an open office environment.
By selecting the appropriate fixtures and materials and configuring them effectively, you can, indeed, accomplish each of the above goals. Some of the most important examples of acoustic mitigation solutions for office environments include:
Create Some Private Rooms and Quiet Spaces: Not only will this help ensure that private conversations do, indeed, remain private, but it will also help decrease background noise pollution. Other workers’ phone calls and the steady flow of water cooler chattering will be muffled enough to no longer pose a distraction to employees tackling a complex task or trying to engage effectively with a client.
Vertical Acoustic Screens: If you want to reduce ambient noise while creating private spaces within an open office environment, vertical acoustic screens are ideal to create phone booths or quiet personal cubicles. Sound buffers may be deployed to help absorb sound between desks and in open spaces, as well.
Acoustic Wall Panels: In addition to the use of vertical acoustic panels to create discrete sound spaces inside an open office, wall panels may be affixed to perimeter walls to absorb, diffuse, and break up sound waves.
This, too, reduces echoes and reverberations and prevents the concentration of sound waves, which can result in localized areas of increased loudness. At the same time, curved wall panels can concentrate sound waves in desired areas, while ridged and perforated ones can increase the materials’ noise reduction properties by breaking up the sound wave as well as absorbing it.
Using Sound Absorbent Materials on Floors and Ceilings: In addition to the use of vertical acoustic panels, floors and ceilings may also be treated to absorb unwanted noise while redirecting important sounds. Carpeting, for example, absorbs soundwaves better than hard flooring and thus will significantly reduce ambient noise levels. Simply placing acoustic panels on ceilings and replacing hard flooring in hallways and open areas can create a significant drop in noise levels.
Baffles, Clouds, and Drop Ceiling Panels: Sound-absorbing baffles, clouds, and other acoustic fixtures can be affixed to the ceiling to prevent sound waves from being reflected back toward the ground, causing distressing reverberations and echoes.
These ceiling fixtures may also be designed to absorb and isolate sound where desired. Curved clouds, for example, may be used to absorb sound waves from multiple angles. When hung above a private meeting space that is enclosed on three sides with a vertical acoustic panel, conversations that take place beneath the cloud will be easier for parties to hear, while being largely unintelligible by those outside of the area.
Use Furnishings Strategically: Noise mitigation doesn’t just depend on the physical space. It’s also the product of the objects in that space, particularly the furnishings. That means that if you want to reduce noise pollution, you’ll want to prioritize furnishings that maximize sound absorption and diffusion, while strategically placing them for the best possible sound. For example, you might use a variety of desk types at various heights, including standing desks (which will also eliminate the need for noisy chairs) and lounge-type sofas and chairs with trays and platforms for working.
Whenever possible, choose soft, upholstered furnishings rather than hard surfaces. Opt for rubberized wheels and feet rather than metal or hard plastic. Furniture can even be built with soft, sound absorbing surfaces or FSorb materials and strategically placed to minimize noise.
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How FSorb Can Help
FSorb is an industry leader in the creation of state-of-the-art, environmentally-friendly acoustic products. We are proud to offer a wide array of highly customizable acoustic solutions, including acoustic ceiling and wall panels, clouds, and baffles in a variety of thicknesses, shapes, and colors.
Our products are designed for a vast array of commercial uses, from corporate offices to industrial manufacturers to schools, healthcare facilities, and government buildings. FSorb’s products are made with recycled content, have a Class A fire rating, are made of antimicrobial material, support LEED projects, and are LBC red list free.
In addition, we offer custom acoustic solutions for both interior and exterior sound mitigation. That means that you can create the ideal soundscape not only for your interior office space but also for your campus. Thus, when you’re seeking to downsize to a more efficient and cost-effective campus, cultivating a sound environment that is ideal both inside and outside can mean even more viable work spaces for your compact and cost-conscious campus.
Contact your local F-Sorb representative today to find the perfect acoustic solutions for your new office design project!
At FSorb, we are motivated by improving human health and do so by creating eco-friendly acoustic products. Our mission is to help designers build beautiful spaces that reduce excess ambient noise while calming the human nervous system. With over 25 years in the acoustic business we stand behind FSorb as a durable, environmentally friendly, and low-cost product. If you want an acoustic solution that is safe to human health at an affordable price, then we are your resource.
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