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Peace and Privacy can be Achieved in an Open Plan Workplace

Peace and Privacy can be Achieved in an Open Plan Workplace

Noise and lack of privacy are the two major complaints about open plan office designs. Yet peace/privacy and open plan working are not mutually exclusive. Workplace design company Evoke Projects explains how clever office design strategies can create a private environment for your team.

How does noise and lack of privacy affect workers?

There are two main victims: comfort and productivity.

People feel uncomfortable when every conversation can be over-heard. Even if the conversation is not about a sensitive topic, workers may not want to share every word with their team mates for fear of being judged.

Noise is distracting, and being interrupted by surrounding conversations shifts attention away from the task at hand. This leads to more mistakes, higher stress while trying to concentrate and lower productivity overall.

If your team is uncomfortable and less productive, not only does it affect the business, but it also affects staff health and well-being.

So how can you create a more private physical environment? Acoustic privacy is the obvious place to start, but visual privacy and workplace design are also important. Not all measures require a full new office fit-out. There are steps you can take with a minor office refurbishment.

Improving acoustic privacy in the workplace

  • Screens – Partition screens are the holy grail of open plan office privacy. There are many different designs and materials, so it is easy to match your corporate brand or interior office design theme. It is best to select partitions that are designed for acoustic damping to reduce both the noise flowing towards the worker and the noise that the worker generates. One screen between every two workstations is a good guide. If you have photocopiers and printers close to workers, acoustic screens will help dampen that noise too.
  • Ceiling – It is surprising how much sound reverberates from the ceiling. Use sound-absorbing ceiling panels, sound clouds or baffles, which can be visually and architecturally appealing. Other solutions include added insulation above the ceiling or even spray-on insulation that absorbs sound waves.
  • Flooring – Careful consideration around flooring will pay dividends too. Carpet, rubber, cork and vinyl tiles have less reverberation than hard tiles. Underlays, insulation and floor sealants help with soundproofing, while floor mats at workstations will reduce the noise of chairs moving around. Rugs dampen sound and look great in the right space!

When comparing materials for sound absorption, look for the NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) rating. The higher the number, the better absorption.

How to create better visual privacy in an open plan office design

  • For staff working on confidential tasks, allocate private offices or position workstations close to walls with low foot traffic passing behind the chairs.
  • Put screen privacy filters on all monitors so they cannot be viewed from the side.
  • Use opaque or solid partitions instead of clear glass.
  • Privacy panels on workstations will protect modesty beneath the desk.
  • Set the scene with lower light and darker office interior design colours in areas allocated for private work. Brighter, lighter colours work well in collaborative zones.

Workplace design will affect noise and privacy

  • When undertaking your next office fit-out or refurbishment, consider the location of noisy and communal areas such as reception, kitchens and conference rooms. Locate them away from open plan office areas.
  • Situate workstations in a way that maximises privacy such as L or U-shaped designs. This creates a more intimate area where teams can feel like a cohesive group, even within an open plan office design.
  • Within the office fit-out, provide private zones for quiet work and concentration. An enclosed room is not the only choice; booths, pods or dedicated sections with soundproof partitions also work well.
  • Include personal spaces with lounge style furniture and rugs for breakout time. This gives people a place to relax and feel like they are at home. Our brains naturally associate home with peace and privacy, which is good for health and well-being.
  • Biophilic design has a calming effect. Indoor plants, natural design elements, artwork and water features evoke a sense of nature and peace. Plants are also natural sound absorbers.
  • As well as partitions, flexible and modular furniture can be used to create private spaces. Storage units work well as dividers while meeting pods provide a more private space than an open office environment.

It is a good idea to consult with your staff before embarking on a new office fit-out or an office refurbishment. Find out what bothers or distracts them. Ask for their ideas. Being consulted and included always improves the mental health and well-being of workers.

For workplace design and fit-out ideas to improve privacy and noise control, please call Evoke Projects on 1300 720 692.

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