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Standard Offices

Standard offices are simply built in order to provide the users with some decent attenuation between workstations so as to avoid unnecessary annoyance, and are not meant to provide privacy. The usual construction calls for removable partitions installed between the technical floor and suspended ceiling.

Such a construction was used by the end user of an important industrial company where inevitably a few meetings would turn into a shouting match. During such a meeting, the acoustician and the architect were politely required to go to another office while the end user team sorted out their differences. While this would have been an acceptable solution for normal voice level, it was just insufficient for shouting, and both amused individuals were treated to a superb collection of epithets! Eventually, this was understood by the participants, and a grinning end user came asking whether privacy still was a valid concept for shouted voices!

Open-Plan Office

The acoustician was required to investigate the situation at a large research facility where some people were apparently complaining of noise issues. The typical layout featured two spaces of eight workstations 3 m distant from each other, with a half-height partitioned technical space housing the printers and plotters in between. The sound absorption under the ceiling was rather limited, while the ventilation noise was really low with 30 dB(A) in full operation. The ambient noise was a mere 45 dB(A).

Asked about the situation, one guy in the first space pointed out the lack of privacy, as he felt everybody could understand him during phone conversations, the annoyance from other people’s occasional phone talk, and the unpredictable noise from the technical equipment that made him jump. He expressed deep regret at having lost his beloved former partitioned office. On the other side of the technical space the talk was different: Whenever something happened, everybody was notified at once by either raising one’s voice or gesticulating, which made for real-time coordination. Regarding the technical equipment, everybody concurred that it was easy to hear whether the required plotting or printing had been initiated! They all expressed satisfaction at the new layout.

Lesson Learned: Open space can be accepted if cooperation is needed between members of a group.

Activities

On auditing an office facility where people were complaining of high noise levels, the acoustician was very surprised to find out that a cleaner would come around 10:00 a.m. and methodically sweep the room. When asked about the noise, the workers were adamant it did not bother them (though a 65 dB(A) equivalent noise level was measured at the workstations during the 15 min long operation). They pointed out that it was nice to chat with the cleaner and they could, when needed, ask him to put some special effort in cleaning specific parts of the room! Meanwhile, the sound level from another worker was considered a real problem, though it did not reach more than 45 dB(A).

Lesson Learned: Do not take anything for granted!

 
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