Earlier this year, we moved from our old office in Central Brighton, which consisted of three rooms split across two floors, to a large open plan office space located in an unused community hall of a Victorian church – a space with an abundance of natural light and wonderful vaulted high ceilings.
The new layout was welcomed with open arms by the team, facilitating more discussions and collaboration, as well as improving overall morale. It is such a unique space, which is what drew us towards it. However, it wasn’t long before we became all too aware of an otherwise unseen issue – one that affected communication, concentration and focus. With all the research we do at OHD on wellbeing and productivity in the workplace and the design work we do to improve people’s daily experience of their environments, it’s important to us that our own office lives up to our standards.
The high ceilings, as lovely as they are, produced a live acoustic environment, making voices echo around the entire room. This meant that a conversation at one end of the room overwhelmed activity at the other, creating a distracting environment.
After looking into different acoustic solutions, we decided to go with Ecophon, manufacturers of ceiling and wall acoustic panels, due to a combination of the high performance of their materials and the suspension system which we felt would look great in the space. So, we reached out to them to discuss what could be done to improve our acoustic environment.
We were asked to send Ecophon a simple video of us popping a balloon, allowing them to further gauge the reverberation time within the room and also calculate the best acoustic solution for our specific office. The calculation before the acoustic installation was 1.5 seconds average reverberation time (125-4000Hz), which is much too high for an open plan office.
You can see the film that we shot (on an iPhone) here (watch out for Susannah’s shock surprise at the end!):
After calculations and conversations with the team at Ecophon, we opted for three of their free hanging circular units to be suspended from our ceiling beams from adjustable wire cables. These panels come in three different sizes and are made from high-density glass wool for optimal sound absorption. There are 16 different colours inspired by nature to choose from, we went for the reflective and brightening ‘White Frost’ option.
Since installation, we have all noticed a vast improvement in the acoustics of the space. We can have a conversation around the central table at the same time as others getting on with their work and can take a phone call without feeling as though we ought to leave the room. So, clearly, we became more satisfied with our office. To quantify this improvement, we recorded a second balloon popping video to send back to Ecophon. On-site measurements were taken, and the reverberation time since installing their acoustic panels was reduced by 0.7 seconds (to 0.8 seconds, or 125-4000Hz). Although reverberation time alone is not the only measurement criteria to use when planning an open plan office, by combining the balloon popping exercise and obtaining feedback from our office staff, we can demonstrate a definite improvement in the acoustic conditions. You can watch this below – see if you notice the difference. We know we can!
“We moved into this fantastic space that worked so well in so many ways – but not all. Acoustics are an aspect we don’t often consider as well as we should but can have such a deep impact on human activity in the workplace. The simple process of popping a balloon can be the start of eliminating this hidden distraction. I love the way these Solo discs seem to float through our space and, even better, soak up negative acoustic transmission in the process. Our great space just got better.”
– Oliver Heath