Source: Halkin.com

In which we learn all about space...

Published in 2021, ISO 22955 addresses the longstanding and well-known challenges that open-plan offices pose to occupants as well as to  acoustic designers. A more detailed Acoustic Bulletin article, ISO 22955: Acoustic quality of open offices, cites The Leesman Review, Issue 31, Leesman Index 2021, which reports that 70% of office workers worldwide are dissatisfied with their workplace acoustic environment.

Notable among the numerous reasons behind these difficulties is the reality that most open-space office environments must accommodate a broad range of activity types, each with unique requirements and characteristics.

Obviously, the logistics involved in all this are pretty complex, so ISO 22955 addresses several common office tasks and explains them from an acoustic point of view. (Or point of sound, if you will.) Each activity corresponds to a space type for which the standard provides specific acoustic indicators and values. Listed below are the space types, along with key acoustic takeaways for each:

 

Space type 1: Vacant Floor – activity still unknown

    • Builds with tight deadlines or those meant for rental occupancy may involve on-the-fly decisions regarding area use.
    • In these cases, it’s best to focus on base build fundamentals—such as materials and geometry—to ensure high levels of layout flexibility and inherent acoustic quality.

 

Space type 2: Tele- and video communication

    • Often referred to as call centres, these spaces are designed for non-collaborative, continuous activity that tends to generate a fair amount of ambient noise.
    • An exacerbating factor, the Lombard Effect—the tendency for humans to raise their voices in the presence of noise—increases noise levels further still.
    • Unable to sustain focused attention and mental clarity, occupants are prone to increased stress as well as vocal strain.
    • Acoustic designers should prioritize strategies to dampen noise levels, sound propagation, and reverberation—while optimizing speech privacy.

 

Space type 3: Primarily collaborative work

    • Group work and verbal communication are predominant, while periodic individual tasks requiring mental focus also occur.
    • Field examples include advertising, design, consulting, and marketing.
    • Sound sources and noise levels vary and fluctuate in these lively environments.
    • High levels of speech intelligibility between nearby workstations represent the most important acoustic planning goal here.

 

Space type 4: Sporadic collaborative work

    • Suitable for activities including administration, HR, accounting, and design engineering, these acoustic spaces must support high mental performance.
    • These relatively quiet spaces most often accommodate desk work interspersed with brief vocal interactions.
    • Optimal acoustic design will ensure: low reverberation; good speech intelligibility at short distances; and reduced sound propagation to minimize disturbances across longer distances and larger offices.

 

Space type 5: Receiving the public

    • Typified by hotels, retail outlets, and local authority offices, these spaces feature activities involving impromptu interactions as well as various degrees of individual work. Think of the harried receptionist. (I’ve been one, so I’d rather not.)
    • Savvy acoustic designers will plan for:
      • the prevention of escalating ambient noise levels.
      • accommodating those engaged in the most demanding activity without disturbing staff concentration.
      • excellent speech intelligibility between visitors and those who greet them.
      • a high degree of speech privacy between this space and adjoining ones, including nearby waiting areas.

 

Space type 6: Mixed activities

    • Although it most commonly exemplifies the open office, this space type defies definition, given the exhaustive list of possible activities that might occur within it: desk work; digital communication; formal and informal meetings; and recreation, to name but a few.

Generally speaking, the more varied the activities, the greater the demands for acoustic treatment and separation.

Source: Acoustic Bulletin

Speaking of collaborative work: standard contributions

Standard development is not a solitary pursuit, and the International Organization for Standardization accordingly recognizes numerous teams and individuals who made possible the publication of ISO 22955. Notable among these are UK-based Jack Harvie-Clark and his colleagues at Apex Acoustics. Cited in the standard, Jack and his team developed the Apex Approach, a methodology for assessing acoustic conditions within activity-based working offices. A tool designed to identify the potential for conflicting acoustic requirements among different activity types, the method provides guidelines for ensuring sufficient sound attenuation between work areas.

Closing words

Shh! I’m keeping my voice down because our living room is an ‘open-space’ environment…and while my co-occupant is cute, I’m not sure we can trust her with the significantly opinion-based and loosely-empirical information that follows. (Though I am sure we can’t trust her around our lunches.)

IMG_2224
Lexi, admin assistant. Categorically untrustworthy!

ICYMI—social media short-hand for in case you missed it—we’re in the thick of a post-pandemic global labour shortage. But even long before 2020 inexorably changed our world, numerous studies were published, and much has been written about: open-plan workplace pros and cons; employee wellbeing relative to productivity; as well as staff retention and/or turnover rates.

Caveat: I’m no math or statistics whiz. But the good folks who pay me to write this content? Well, they absolutely slay at those things, not to mention physics! That being clarified, I present a humble layperson’s observations and conclusions pertaining to workplace acoustics:

  • Employee satisfaction and wellbeing positively correlate to employee productivity and retention.
  • Work environments characterized by high acoustic quality contribute significantly to employee satisfaction and wellbeing.
  • Actual standards have been established to promote such acoustic quality.

 

Ergo, it’s a really, really good idea to contact BAP Acoustics with all your soundwave-related workplace planning questions. Even when they’re not strictly enforced—Canada, see Europe and take notes, please—we love standards, and we know how to use them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Denny Ng, M.A.Sc. P.Eng.

Senior Acoustic Consultant

Denny is a locally trained and licensed Professional Engineer specializing in environmental noise modelling, architectural acoustics and mechanical noise control. His career as a consultant began with an internship at BAP Acoustics in 2016 while completing his graduate studies in acoustics at the University of British Columbia. Working closely with Eric and Mark, Denny has had the privilege of working on numerous post-secondary education and infrastructure projects including Emily Carr University of Art and Design, UBC Gateway and Brock Commons Phase 2, Stuart Lake Hospital Replacement Project and Nanaimo Correctional Center. His approach to consulting is communicating acoustical concerns as they arise in order to reach cost effective solutions. 

 

Qualifications

B.A.Sc. Mechanical Engineering – Thermofluids Option (with distinction), University of British Columbia, 2014

M.A.Sc. Mechanical Engineering – Acoustics Group, University of British Columbia, 2019

P.Eng. BC

Leanne Farmer, B.Eng.

Acoustic Consultant

Leanne Farmer began her career in Adelaide, where she gained four years of experience providing acoustic design advice across Australia. She possesses extensive technical knowledge in both building acoustics and complex environmental noise assessments. Demonstrating her capabilities in multi-disciplinary coordination and project management, Leanne effectively managed large-scale measurement campaigns and contributed to major infrastructure projects. After re-locating back to Victoria, BC in 2023, Leanne joined BAP Acoustics. She is excited to be working on local projects, applying the experiences and insights gained from her diverse international work.

 

Qualifications

B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering, University of Victoria, 2018

EIT, BC

Alex Mendes, B.Eng. EIT

Acoustic Engineer

A graduate of the University of Victoria, Alex has contributed to an array of computerized acoustic modelling projects during his tenure with BAP Acoustics. His passion for music lends itself to a particular focus in room acoustics modelling, where he has applied creative approaches to navigate the unique challenges posed by varied architectural designs. His expertise extends to outdoor sound modelling, where he has lent his skillset to initiatives ranging from shooting noise control studies to public alert system performance evaluations. Alex’s ardent curiosity and his analytical, pragmatic approach to consultation have served him well in providing sensible, practical solutions to a host of acoustic challenges.

 

Qualifications

B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering, University of Victoria, 2018

EIT, BC

Kathryn Gulewich, B.Eng. EIT

Acoustic Engineer

Kathryn is a Mechanical Engineer who graduated from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) with a Bachelor of Engineering degree. She pivoted to the field of acoustical consulting upon joining BAP Acoustics in 2022, embracing a transition marked by rapid expertise accrual—particularly in outdoor noise monitoring and HVAC noise control. Kathryn’s solid engineering background supports her technical approach to acoustic challenges, blending mechanical engineering principles with the specialized demands of acoustic consultancy.

 

Qualifications

B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering, BCIT, 2011

Nicole Yeung, M.Eng. EIT.

Acoustic Engineer

An Honours graduate, Nicole earned her M.Eng. degree in Acoustical Engineering at the globally renowned Institute of Sound and Vibration Research founded 60 years ago by the UK-based University of Southampton. Nicole’s project experience encompasses acoustic design, implementation and testing at all stages of work. Her project contributions include examining and optimizing: sound insulation between spaces; room reverberation time; and mechanical noise emissions. She is also experienced in outdoor noise propagation simulation and environmental noise study for: new residential developments; fitness facilities; office buildings; and industrial developments. Nicole has a strong foundation in outdoor noise propagation software Cadna/A. In addition, she is experienced in using programs such as Insul for sound insulation prediction and ODEON for room acoustics. 

 

Qualifications

M.Eng. Acoustical Engineering (Honours), Institute of Sound & Vibration Research, University of Southampton, UK.

EIT, BC