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Office distractions are the “elephant in the room” of the modern workplace. Nearly three out of four workers admit feeling distracted while on the job, but very few people bring up the problem to their managers. Let’s face it: if you are reading this article at your office, you will probably get distracted at least once in the process.

Is there a solution to office distractions? In the previous article, we proposed several ideas, and, unsurprisingly, one of those suggestions was to use acoustic pods as a place for focused and creative work. Today, we’ll dive a bit deeper into how to fully utilize acoustic pods, including where to place them for maximum efficiency and productivity. We’re sure these tips will help you create cozy shelters for employees who need a place to focus. Let’s start!

This article is a part of the Acoustic Pods Consumers Guide, which we created to address the most crucial questions about acoustic pods. The guide walks you through how to choose the right pod, place it within your office and introduce it to your team. Download your guide here.

Don't put pods too close to workstations 

While some soundproof pods can be placed close to workstations for easy access, pods purchased specifically to provide spaces for focused work need to be located further away. There are three main reasons for this: 

→  To escape distractions: When you want to finish an important task - like a presentation, data analysis, or a blog post -  it's best to sit down in a secluded place to focus. It’s simple: the further you go from your desk, the less likely your colleagues will drop by to ask about something or to show you the latest meme. Ideally, try to cut off all electronic distractors like emails and social media for a while to give your full attention to the task.

→  To boost creativity: It’s scientifically proven that walking boosts creative thinking. Researchers from Stanford University found that the creative thinking of people while walking was 60 percent higher compared to those same people while sitting (Steve Jobs, known for his “walking brainstorms” would probably agree). We all know that the idea of dragging your laptop through the whole office doesn't sound great to you. However, a brief walk across the office could help you come up with more innovative ideas. 

→  To use the Commitment RuleBuilding on the suggestion to walk a bit further from your desk, the more time and effort you put into getting to another part of the office for focused work, the higher your chances of staying put and finishing the task. 

It's a trick based on the "effect of commitment", one of the six popular psychological rules coined by psychologist Robert Cialdini. The rule states that once we make a decision and take the first steps towards that decision, we feel internal pressure to behave consistently with that call. A few extra steps could work wonders and make the time spent inside more effective. 

Space M Corner

Group pods together to create "Focus Valley" 

It’s invaluable when an employee is always sure that he has his own private workspace whenever he needs it. That’s why it’s better to have more than just one pod dedicated to focused work in the office, so more employees have a chance to use them. Consider creating a “Focus Valley” by grouping these pods together and away from the office’s main workstation areas. It could be some less-visited office alley or a part of a corridor. 

Remember to leave at least 20 centimeters of free space above the pod’s ceiling and on both sides of the pod walls to ensure that pod’s fans work properly. You can also display posters on the pods’ walls that reinforce their function as areas of focus. It can be helpful to assign your pods with a specific purpose so employees make the most of them.

Pod Placement Space L

Use the pods as "deep work" chambers

Deep work is a state of distraction-free concentration when your brain operates at its full potential. This level of focus allows you to work more efficiently, especially when it comes to learning challenging concepts more quickly or producing high-quality work.

How can you achieve a state of “deep work”? There are plenty of easy-to-implement guidelines, mainly regarding organizing your work, scheduling time, and training your brain to develop certain habits. Many of them point out that it's essential to prepare a set of rituals before you start deep work. Going to a specially prepared, sound-isolated place, like an acoustic pod, could be one such ritual. Consider encouraging employees to block out time for "deep work" once a week. It will give them a window to concentrate on the task and signal to colleagues that they are unavailable. Moreover, it will help them plan their work better.

Want to learn more? 

We believe acoustic pods are tools that, with smart use, can single-handedly transform your office into a better, more productive, and more joyful place. If you are eager to learn more, check out the complete Acoustic Pods Consumer Guide here.

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Lokomotivværkstedet Copenhagen

We are excited to kick off our trade fair season and invite you to visit our stand at Trends & Traditions in Copenhagen. This edition’s motive is “Engaging People” and we couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the topic. 

Our inauguration of the spring ’22 exhibition season is right around the corner! Last fall, we debuted on Trends & Traditions in Copenhagen and we were charmed by the laid-back and friendly atmosphere of the event. We enjoyed having plenty of conversations with amazing people, and we are ready for more this year! Particularly because this year’s event theme, “Engaging People”, is something our products are all about. 

During this year’s edition, we will showcase a set of our acoustic solutions for creating #GoodWorkspaceEnergy, including acoustic pods & acoustic lighting. Visitors will have the chance to experience our well-known flagship Space pods as well as our pods' novelties shown for the first time. We will also present selection of acoustic lamps including the Line, recently awarded with “must have” prize.  

We can’t wait to meet you and present our products personally, but if you prefer to discover our pods’ features yourself, we’ve got something for you. Our Space pods will be available to test with a dedicated audio guide. All you need to do is scan the QR code displayed on the pod’s wall, enter the pod and press the play button.  

What’s more on our stand? As always: traditional polish hipster sodas and tons of positive energy. 

Visit us at stand HV1350 and step into the World of Mute!

Trends and Traditions 2022

When & Where?

5.05.2022, Lokomotivværkstedet,
Otto busses vej 5A, 2450 København SV
Stand HV1350

If you would like to preschedule a meeting, send an e-mail to marketing@mute.design.

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Acoustic pods are becoming increasingly popular in workplaces around the world.  65 percent of office workers admit that noise significantly affects their efficiency, so it’s no surprise that many major companies treat acoustic pods as important elements of a modern and creative office. Soundproof pods provide solace for employees where privacy at work can be hard to come by.

There is a wide range of acoustic pods on the market, so we understand that it can be challenging to decide what products to choose. It's even more complicated if you are not familiar with acoustics nuances and jargon. So, how do you pick the right pod for the job? What features look into to make sure you’re buying a high-quality product and not just a cool-looking piece of office furniture? Let’s take a look at three essential pod features you’ll want to consider closely before making a purchase. 

This article is a part of the Acoustic Pods Consumers Guide, which we created to address the most crucial questions about acoustic pods. The guide walks you through how to choose the right pod, place it within your office and introduce it to your team. Download your guide here.
Soundproofing_SpaceS

Soundproofing 

Understanding soundproofing is a critical first step to evaluating a pod. The acoustic efficiency of different pod models can vary a lot. Some pods offer almost total sound isolation, while others have acoustic properties…on the label only. It’s worth taking some time to hear the difference.

The best way to check sound isolation is to do an experiment yourself. If it’s possible, visit a showroom, ideally with a colleague. One of you should step inside and then try to communicate and speak to the other, changing voice level. You should hear significant difference while talking through the pod’s doors. If you are alone, take a Bluetooth speaker and test it by playing your favorite song loud. Perform the experiment in quiet surroundings to ensure the soundproofing level will be noticeable and not disturbed by background noise. 

Check the pod’s internal sound isolation as well as its external one. A high-quality pod should have slightly less effective external isolation so that when users are in the pod, they can hear a loud sound (like an alarm going off) outside of it. This is an important design feature for safety. At the same time, you want good internal sound isolation so that conversations are private and don't let too much sound escape into the ambient office space.

Don't look only at sound-insulation performance. Also, check the pod's internal reverberation time. A high-quality pod should limit reverberation time to 0.1 – 0.3 seconds. It will improve audibility during phone calls or video calls.

Good to ask: Checking the acoustics, ask producers to provide reliable information about the sound isolation parameters of the whole finished product, not only its particular elements (i.e. walls and doors separately).  

Ventilation_SpaceL

Ventilation 

Adequate ventilation is often overlooked. Why? It’s not well-known that ventilation is crucial to a properly functioning acoustic pod. To ensure a pod is comfortable and enjoyable, especially when working inside for a long time, it has to be equipped with first-class ventilation: silent but very effective. 

Pay attention to the noise caused by running fans, both inside and outside the pod. The outside noise is something clients often forget to check. But remember that fans that are too loud can easily disturb employees whose desks are close to the acoustic pod. The noise caused by fans should not be higher than 37 dB outside and 40db inside.

Check the airflow of pod ventilation, which tends to vary with the size of the pod and the number of people inside. In order to provide a comfortable atmosphere inside the pod minimal airflow should reach at least 40m3 per hour, per person.

Check the pod’s occupancy sensor and whether the ventilation continues to work for a while after users leave the pod. Continuing ventilation provides fresh air for the next user. That functionality may sound obvious, but it's not offered with every pod.

Good to know: The same ventilator can vary in performance depending on the place or mechanism where it’s installed. So, producers should measure these differences and inform you about the airflow level of the ventilator installed inside the pod, not only the level on the label of a ventilator.

Lighting_SpaceXL

Lighting 

Lighting is another significant acoustic pod feature. Adequate brightness inside the pod boosts visual comfort and protects users from eyestrain. This is of course crucial when choosing a pod for individual-focused work.

Make sure the light provides at least 300 lux for sitting positions. If you plan to use the pod as a place for extended and focused work, make sure it has an additional side lamp. Also, consider adding a control panel to allow a user to adjust the light's intensity to his individual needs. 

Ensure that the light color temperature is 4000 Kelvins which is the recommended level for office work, as it fosters creativity and allows you to focus more easily.

Ask if the pod has an occupancy sensor to limit energy consumption and to let you not to bother switching the lights on while entering the pod.

Good to ask: Remember to ask about the Lux level (not only the Kelvin, Watts, or Lumens). Lux is the most adequate scale because it measures the total amount of light that falls on a working surface. To learn more about different scales of light measurement, check our Jargon Buster: Lighting.

Want to learn more? Check out the complete Acoustic Pods Consumer Guide here.

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Cover art by Beata Śliwińska @BARRAKUZ
Cover art by Beata Śliwińska @BARRAKUZ

 

At work, we’re surrounded by countless technological tools that we hardly give a second thought. We use them every day, so we take them for granted. 

Historically, men have overshadowed the many women who invented countless technologies and made important scientific discoveries. In fact, we use many of these important inventions in our everyday work life at the office (and at home). Here are just a few of those innovations developed by women, who pushed against social barriers and discrimination to bring their ideas to life. 

Hedy Lamarr

Year: 1942 

Herr1

Wireless transmission technology

In the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr was a successful American actress. So it might come as surprise that after a long day on a glamorous set, she was also a technology nerd and inventor. While news German U-Boats threatened civilian ships hit newspapers during World War II, Lamarr had an idea. She had learned that radio-controlled torpedoes used by the U.S. military could be easily jammed, causing the torpedo to miss enemy submarines. So, she invented the concept of frequency-hop signals that could prevent jamming.

She patented a device to emit such a signal. Although never used during the war, "frequency hopping" was crucial to developing every wireless transmission technology we know today. So, the next time you log onto Wi-Fi or use Bluetooth, think of the Austrian-born Hollywood starlet from hits like Lady of the Tropics and the Oscar-nominated film Algiers. 

Ada Lovelace 

Year: 1843 

Lovelace

Computer Algorithm

Algorithm has been a hot word for a while—one that easily defines the business world today. Every app and computer program is based on a series of algorithms. What if we told you that the first algorithm was written almost a century before the first computer was even built? 

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of English poet Lord Byron. She was a talented mathematician. In 1843, while translating the transcript of the lecture about the Analytical Engine—the complex counting machine proposed by mathematics professor Charles Babbage—Ada added her own notes, expanding the original text. Her diagram for the Analytical Engine is widely considered to be the first published algorithm that could be implemented on a computer. Could you be more ahead of your time? 

Melitta Bentz

Year: 1908

Melita

Coffee Filter 

For some, only paper filters will do to make the best-brewed coffee. With a bit of luck, you've got them in your office's kitchen too. But who came up with this way of preparing coffee? 

Let's meet Melitta Bentz, a housewife from Dresden and a true coffee lover. She disliked that coffee grounds always ended up in her coffee cup. A piece in The New York Times notes that  “every morning she fantasized about better ways to brew.” After a few experiments with alternative ways of making her favorite drink, she finally tore a piece of paper from her son's school notebook and used it to filter the coffee. She accidentally discovered a great, clean and minimalistic way of brewing coffee. 

After receiving a patent for her invention, she started a company with her husband and sons, headquartered in their Dresden apartment. Today, the Melitta Group employs more than 4,000 people across the world. The company reported its revenue in 2017 as 1.5 billion Euros, or about 1.8 billion US

Lillian Gilbreth

Year: 1920s-70s  

Gilbreth

Foot-operated trash can (and more)

Speaking of the kitchen, here’s a slightly less savory—but equally as important—innovation: the foot-operated trash can. When you throw out that coffee filter, you probably step on the foot pedal to open your trash can. For sure, you have never asked yourself who invented that helpful feature. 

Lillian Gilbreth was an American psychologist and a genius inventor of almost countless patents for products that appear in both homes and workspaces. Among her other ingenious ideas were shelves in refrigerator doors, the electric can-opener, and even wall-light switches. And, on top of it all, she raised twelve children. Hats off! 

Shirley Ann Jackson

Year: 1970s

Jackson

Caller ID

Before inventing the Caller ID technology, answering a call was a lottery of conversations. You never knew if your friend, boss, or a sales person was on the other side of the line. It might have been fun to guess, but on the other hand, every phone call was one you had to pick up. Fortunately, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, the first African American woman to earn a doctorate at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, solved the problem. 

Caller ID, a technology she invented during her work at Bell Labs in the 1970s, allowed us to know who is calling and, we admit, avoid some calls. And, thanks to her other invention, call waiting, we can receive incoming calls while on another call. No more missed business calls! 

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Showroom-Karlshure-Germany

We are excited to present the new base for our acoustic products. From now on, you can visit the futureoffice showroom in Karlsruhe to experience the quality of our soundproof pods, sound absorbers, and acoustic lighting. Come over and get inspired! 

If you want to see how our tools for #GoodWorkspaceEnergy work in practice, that’s the spot you are looking for. Located in a historic building near the center of Karlsruhe, futureoffice Showroom is the place where you will find almost every product from our offer. However, if you are unable to visit Karlsruhe, don’t’ worry, we will guide you through it virtually. So, let’s start! 

Showroom-Karlshure-Germany

What’s up there to see in particular? First of all Space L Meeting - a mobile and functional acoustic pod - a place to plan, create, and debate. The soundproof pod comes with 2 comfortable sofas with or without an armrest to take a seat and dive into productive conversations. The sliding and adjustable tabletop provides additional comfort.

Showroom-Karlshure-Germany

What’s more? Take a look at Blocks on the right picture - high-quality sound absorbers, an excellent choice to prevent sound reflections from walls or ceilings. It comes in 6 classic geometrical shapes and various sizes. Blocks work perfectly in open-plan offices. That roundly shaped miracle you see on the left is Booth - an ideal tool to create a quiet zone for your phone calls. Works great in noisy open plan areas or busy office corridors.

Karlsruhe showroom is a home for even more Mute’s acoustic products. So, if you are nearby make sure to book a visit. 

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Without privacy, some people feel drained and find themselves without the energy and space they need to think freely and creatively.

It’s 3 P.M. and you still haven’t been able to regain your focus after lunch. You have multiple tabs open, the end-of-month report on your mind, coworkers chatting nearby, and a new Slack notification every few minutes. Sure, the GIF on Slack gives you a laugh and the camaraderie of the office makes work lively, but the bustle keeps you distracted. 

We’re all overly familiar with distraction these days. It’s a daily struggle to focus on the many and diverse tasks we set out for ourselves. It’s probably no surprise then that scientific evidence disproves the so-called “multitasking myth”: it’s false that our brains can effectively focus on two or more tasks at once. However we try to convince ourselves that “Yes, we absolutely can multitask!” it is actually impossible for 97.5 percent of us. So how can we overcome distraction and harness the power of focused work? How do we optimize our brain’s architecture rather than work against it? In this article, we’ll cover a few ways you and your team can reclaim your time and attention for a more healthy, creative work life. 

 

How to Achieve Healthier, More Creative Work 

Studies show that productivity and efficiency increase when people focus on one task at a time. This is because it takes our brains time to gauge new information and engage with that information each time we switch tasks or try to refocus after getting distracted. And while we certainly cannot claim to be rid of distraction all the time, a few company policies and a bit of creative office design can help get everyone in the groove of focused work. 

 

1. Provide Opportunities for Privacy and Quiet 

Teams consist of not only different roles and responsibilities, but also many personalities that require varying environments for optimal well-being and productivity. When team members can leverage their strengths rather than battle their weaknesses, each person can be more focused and engaged in their role. Therefore, it’s important to recognize that not everyone works in the same way. While some people feel energized by the hustle and bustle of an office, others require peace and isolation. Without privacy, some people feel drained and find themselves without the energy and space they need to think freely and creatively. An office designed with retreats that offer solitude and quiet can accommodate a wider range of work styles. Leverage soundproof pods, like our Space M pod, or an acoustic privacy screen, like Cone, to give people the opportunity to concentrate more deeply, even in open office plans. Privacy and peace help the full range of personalities among us maintain the energy and creativity needed to produce excellent and innovative work. 

Space-M-Interior

If your team sometimes works from home, carpets, a room divider, books, curtains and other objects in the room can all help with sound absorption.

2. Add Flexibility to the (Home) Office

According to Pew Research, even those who have been able to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic face distraction. Ambient noise, including other family members on remote work or school calls, add to all the regular digital distractions. Perhaps even more than in an office, remote workers need to multitask to make it through the day. If your team sometimes works from home, carpets, a room divider, books, curtains and other objects in the room can all help with sound absorption. Placing a few items in the workspace can improve the acoustics of the room to reduce distractions from ambient noise and improve sound on conference and video calls. 

Back in the office, Wall, a flexible acoustic panel, offers sound reduction, privacy, and separation when and where you need it most. Sound absorbers and privacy screens come in a variety of styles to match your office and some are even easy to install or light enough to move on the fly, so teams can nimbly react to whatever their needs are at any given moment. 

 

3. Set Quiet Hours and Away Messages

Anyone glued to their computer screen or smartphone during the workday knows the impulsive urge to check email. The expectation for immediate, synchronous communication has only grown with technology’s firm grip on our day-to-day activities. And while messaging tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams claim to reduce email, they also add pressure for people to instantaneously respond to inquiries and messages. Developing simple company policies that reduce this pressure can help the entire office produce their most innovative and creative work. 

For example, you can designate a time — even two hours a day — when the entire company agrees to not send emails, schedule meetings, or drop by colleagues’ desks. Set this as a recommendation and urge management to lead by example to show employees it really is OK to work without the distraction of email and messenger. 

If setting a company-wide “quiet hours” proves too challenging because of varying schedules or because you work across time zones, you can also encourage people to set away messages on the days and times that suit them. This gives employees the flexibility to choose when they focus best and empower them to come back to emails and messages later, guilt-free. 

Duo-Interior

Making collaboration enjoyable and a time in which all team members are heard can make all the difference to a productive and creative collaborative session.

4. Block Calendar Time for Deep Work

Georgetown University professor Cal Newport developed “deep work” as a strategy for intensive, distraction-free concentration that aims to produce our most innovative and valuable work. Although Newport recommends deep work every workday, that’s not realistic for most people. However, blocking out time on your calendar even once a week can help you work on your most cognitively demanding projects with vigor and, most importantly, without distractions. Scheduling the time, like you would any other meeting, both gives you a purposeful window to work on the task but also signals to colleagues that you’re not available for impromptu meetings, messages, or other distractions.  

 

5. Make Collaboration Joyful

Finally, while reducing distractions in the workplace is key to creative work, collaboration is equally as important and fruitful for innovation and productivity. So far, we’ve talked mostly about how to combat the myth of multitasking and make it easier for individuals to focus on one task at a time. But what about when teams do come together? Making collaboration enjoyable and a time in which all team members are heard can make all the difference to a productive and creative collaborative session. Making sure the spaces we gather serve collaboration in the best ways is key. For example, reducing the reverberation time in a conference room improves speech intelligibility and reduces overall office noise. Techland, a gaming company in Wrocław, used a combination of Mute Blocks and Walls to improve the acoustics of their conference rooms and encourage better team collaboration experiences. You could also use a large, standalone meeting pod, like our Space L or Space XL pods, as a conference room that is specially designed with optimal acoustics, ventilation and lighting in mind. This is especially helpful in today’s offices, when some team members might tune in via conference or video call. Better intelligibility helps everyone feel both heard and included in collaborative team meetings and workshops. 

Offices offer people an opportunity to socialize, collaborate, and exchange ideas. But giving people a respite from distractions and bustle helps them re-energize and focus when they need it most. A productive and healthy work environment that offers opportunities for peace and concentration not only reduces stress, but it also enables people with varying needs and styles to work in the ways that empower them to produce their best work. Using a combination of smart and empathetic communication policies and creative office design, individual contributors, teams, and an entire company can pursue their most ambitious endeavors.  

Want a more creative and productive office space? Find out how Mute can help →

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The idea of an open-plan office was quite noble: break down the walls and create an environment for people to communicate and exchange ideas. It was an attempt to foster cooperation and collaboration, to forget about a company's strict hierarchy. But what does the open-plan office look like in practice? Well, according to extensive research and employee opinion, it doesn’t look good. Let's take a closer look at the history of the open-plan office and explore how to make them better spaces for everyday work. 

The Open Office Origin Story

Surprisingly, the concept of an open-plan office is older than we all think. The first open-plan office was designed in 1906 by Frank Lloyd Wright, undoubtedly one of the most important and famous architects of twentieth century, known for designing the Fallingwater House in Pennsylvania and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. When he designed the Larkin Administration Building, he wanted to imitate a factory floor, with one big, main hall where all the work is done.

However, the concept was not widely used and the open-plan area mainly housed secretaries and other administrative staff. If you’ve watched the T.V. series “Mad Men,” you probably remember what the office of the Sterling Cooper Agency looked like. It had two main areas: a big open room filled with secretaries' desks and the surrounding private (often opulent) offices of executives and senior employees like the main character, Don Draper. 

Wright-Interior

Interior of Larkin Administration Building, reimagined

Wright-Building

Source: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Lost Works

The Open-Plan Layout: German Roots

The open-plan office as  we know it today was conceived in Germany and is called Bürolandschaft. The concept was to organize an office space without evident hierarchism (meant to reflect the post-war egalitarian trend in German Society).  Putting all employees in the same shared space was meant to show that everyone is equally important and that regular employees were just as substantial as the company’s leaders.

The architects of Bürolandschaft also wanted to create a workplace where employees could communicate and cooperate more easily. The removal of solid barriers and walls was meant to enable people to work better as a team. For the same reason, architects replaced the rows of desks with the smaller, organic, and irregular groupings of workspaces. At a glance, it seemed as if the workspaces were randomly placed, but in fact, the location of every desk cluster was calculated and based on work paths and roles within the organization.

 

Why Did the Open-plan Office Become so Popular? 

The popularity of open-plan offices rose in 2005, when Google reinvented their HQ. Since then, it has become a model for other companies. Businesses wanted to be (or at least appear to be) as innovative as Google, so they did away with cubicles and redesigned their offices to match the open-plan concept. In 2015, Facebook also followed this trend and built the world’s largest open-plan floor that holds 2,800 employees on a 10-acre campus.

Google-2005-Interior

Googleplex by Clive Wilkinson Architects, 2005

Google-2005-Interior-2

Googleplex by Clive Wilkinson Architects, 2005

The Open-Plan Office: A Drop in Communication

Thanks to this recent—and long-lasting—trend, most of us currently work in open-plan offices. In 2014, 70 percent of companies had an open floor plan, according to a survey by the International Facility Management Association. Do we enjoy it? Unfortunately, plenty of employees struggle with common and well-known open-office flaws: a lack of privacy, distractions, and difficulties with communication. A Queensland University of Technology study showed that 90 percent of employees working in offices with an open floor plan experienced increased stress levels and higher blood pressure. In the long term, open-plan offices can also cause burnouts, resignations, and higher turnover rates for companies. 

What’s more, two different surveys performed in the UK and the US showed that open-plan office implementation actually caused a drop in face-to-face communication by approximately 70 percent and an increase in email and electronic messaging by between 22 and 50 percent. Ironically, the open office’s ambition to foster communication led to quite the opposite.

Why did that happen? One of most popular theories says that people working inside an open-plan office create a “fourth wall” for themselves, like an actor separating himself from his audience. It’s an easy way to stave off distractions and focus on the job. But where does it lead? If someone seems to be working intensely while wearing their headphones, we prefer to not interrupt him. Instead, we often decide to send him an email or a message. And from there, the number of notifications only grows. 

Moreover, we have to remember that building a "fourth wall" is a significant mental effort that can result in increased stress, errors, and frustration. As one Fast Company writer has explained, "When employees can't concentrate on their work, their desire to interact and collaborate with others is reduced."

 

The Open-Plan Office: A Lack of Privacy

Although Mark Zuckerberg is famously known for having a desk among his Facebook employees, he is also known for spending most of his time working alone in a conference room. Perhaps he is among the  43 percent of workers for whom a lack of privacy is at the top of the list of problems in the open-plan office. Feeling that we are observed and heard prevents us from expressing our thoughts freely, creates problems when we need to take or make phone calls, and hinders productivity, especially for introverted people. The same survey, conducted by tech PR firm Bospar, showed that 76 percent of workers do not recommend open-plan offices.

We can only expect these numbers to rise, as open-plan offices become smaller and more overcrowded. Between 2010 and 2017, the average space per person shrank 33 percent, from 225 to 150 square feet. That means people have less space to themselves and are surrounded by more distractions. 

But maybe the biggest issue with the concept that all workers should share one, giant room is that companies don't appreciate the diversity of their employees’ roles and work preferences. Talent diversity can be a company's biggest asset, but only if it makes an extra effort to ask how it can support all employees and meet their individual needs. Providing each employee with the same work environment, whether a copywriter or an accountant, does not empower them to do their best work.

Airbnb-Dublin-Interior

Airbnb Office in Dublin

Facebook-offices

Facebook HQ in Pittsburgh

Open Offices: When Are They Effective? 

Is there any context in which an open-plan office is effective? Well, some studies have shown that an open office can work. 

According to research performed by Humanyze, open offices are great at encouraging interaction within teams that are creating new products or services. But they are terrible for execution-based tasks, like writing code or performing calculations. In other words, the open-plan concept is great for companies coming up with new ideas, but disastrous for those implementing the ideas. Bearing in mind that both types of teams exist in most organizations, an office that offers a mixed layout, with varied zones designed for different kinds of tasks, might be a suitable solution. How can you design this kind of space? We’ll give you all the advice you need in the next part of this article. 

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Verseo Poznań Office with Duo Acoustic Screens on desks
Widex – the single world leading manufacturer of the hearing aids raised the quality index by seven percentage points using a mix of our top sound absorbers and privacy screens solutions.
Acoustics Jargon - Sound Waves Animation

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between sound frequency and sound level? Do you know what the Lombard effect is? If you don’t have a clue, don’t worry, because today we’re carrying on with our Jargon Buster series. 

In the last article, we broke down lighting industry jargon. This time, we’re talking about six of the most common terms used in acoustics. As always, we promise to avoid the overly complex, scientific mumbo-jumbo. Let’s start! 

Sound

What is sound itself? Sound is a variation in air pressure that ears can detect. A sound source (for example, your mouth while speaking) emits air pressure changes that travel as a sound wave at a speed of approximately 340 meters per second. When energy from the sound source reaches the eardrum, sensitive bones within it vibrate, and the auditory nerve signals to the brain that we’re hearing something.

Did you know? 

Sound waves travel much faster in water than they do in air. Sound travels 4.3 times faster in water than it does in air of the same temperature. That’s why water animals, like dolphins, can communicate over such long distances (up to 10 kilometers).  

Conference room - Sound Waves Animation

dB

dB, or decibel, is the unit of measurement for sound pressure.  It refers to what we perceive as “loudness.” So, when acoustics professionals talk about how “loud” a room is, they are referring to its decibel level. What’s most important to know here is that sound pressure isn’t measured on a linear scale because an ear’s reaction to changes in sound energy is not linear. 

For example, in very quiet surroundings, even a tiny change in sound pressure is noticeable and enables us to hear a change in loudness. In a very noisy space, on the other hand, we need to increase a sound’s energy level much more to detect the difference. That’s why a decibel scale is not linear; it better mirrors the function and characteristics of our ears. Here’s another example: to increase the sound level by 10dB—from 40dB (a small refrigerator) to 50db (an average conversation) — we need 10 times more sound energy. A 10dB increase corresponds to a doubling of loudness.

Did you know?

The term “decibel” is derived from the name of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. 

 

Reverberation Time

When a sound wave strikes a hard surface, like concrete or glass, it is reflected and gradually loses its energy. This results in an effect called reverberation. Reverberation time is the length of time that it takes for a sound to reach complete silence after its initiation. 

In rooms with excessive reverberation, we often feel uncomfortable, especially during longer conversations. Give it a try. How does a 4-way conversation in a small bathroom sound after a while? You will quickly notice that the words you hear are unclear and seem too loud. That is because different sound waves mix together as they are reflected by the hard materials in the room. Sometimes, to be heard better, you instinctively raise your voice, but it only makes things worse. 

To prevent that effect and to communicate more clearly, you can make sure that office spaces, like conference rooms and rooms dedicated to making video calls, have short reverberation times. 

Did you know? 

The optimal reverberation time depends on the intended use of a room. For a conference room, it is recommended to keep the reverberation time between 0.5 and 1.0 seconds. In open spaces, the reverberation time should be lower, between 0.4 and 0.6 seconds, because there are more potential sound sources. Keeping the reverberation time in a big conference room too low, however, can also lead to some acoustic problems. For example, those in the back of a room might struggle to hear a speaker at the front. 

Sound Noise Paperclip Image

Noise

Noise is a general term to describe all unwanted, unnecessary or disruptive sounds, such as background chatter, alarms, telephone conversations, buzzing electronic devices and sounds from the street. Being in a noisy environment can reduce concentration, increase workplace risks and, in the long run, even create health problems.

Did you know?

The energy of an acoustic wave can be absorbed, reflected, or transmitted. The extent to which the energy is absorbed, reflected, or transmitted depends on the barrier’s material composition. Hard surfaces (like concrete or glass) reflect acoustic energy, whereas porous materials will absorb most of it. To reduce the noise level, you have to absorb as much sound energy as possible by using specially designed porous materials.

 

Sound Absorption

Sound absorption is the ability of a given material to partially block the energy of a sound wave and turn it into unnoticeable thermal energy. Sound absorption is used mostly in products dedicated to limiting the reverberation time inside a room. By placing sound absorbing materials on walls, ceilings or in corners you can make your room quieter and cozier.

Absorption is measured according to the ISO 354 norm and expressed as the sound absorption coefficient αw, with a value between 0 (total reflection) and 1 (total absorption), and corresponding classes A–E. Class A represents the highest quality and E, the lowest:

Did you know?

Five of our products have Class A sound absorption properties, which means these products offer top-quality sound absorption that effectively reduces reverberations that could cause distraction:

Tower

Blocks

Print

Puzzle

Canvas

Office Wellbeing - Mute Mist Lamp Drawing

Sound Attenuation

To put it simply, sound attenuation describes a reduction in sound volume. A product that supports sound attenuation, therefore, helps reduce the energy of a sound wave as it travels through a particular space (for example, the voice of a chatty colleague from another department in your open-plan office). The rule is simple: the more you reduce the sound in different parts of the space, the more (acoustically) comfortable the space is. This comfort supports productivity because it can reduce noise and distraction. Acoustic products like walls and partitions provide high-quality sound attenuation. Instead of absorbing sound, they capture it, acting as acoustic barriers between different areas of the room.

Did you know? 

We offer a wide range of products that support sound attenuation:

Cone 

Booth 

Duo 

Wall

 

Lombard Effect

The Lombard effect describes our tendency to increase the volume of our voice in a loud environment. We do so because we think that we will become more audible to others. What’s interesting is that the change occurs in both loudness and other acoustic features like pitch rate and syllable duration. 

Did you know? 

Research on birds and monkeys has demonstrated that the effect also occurs in the animal kingdom. 

 

Now that you know the acoustics essentials find out how to improve office acoustics with these Mute products. Or check out our article, “Well-Being Boosters: 4 Reasons to Improve the Acoustics in Your Office”, to see how acoustic solutions can influence your team’s well-being and productivity.

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