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The Investec offices feature acoustic finishing from Oscar Acoustics. Images: TP Bennett & BW Workplace Experts

Almost half of architects say office clients ‘aren’t interested’ in end-user health and wellbeing

A new survey conducted by Oscar Acoustics suggests employee welfare is falling short when adapting workspaces for returning office workers.

It reveals 46 per cent of British architects cite significant challenges when designing social distancing measures for office employees, with two out of five (42 per cent) feeling their office-owning clients aren’t interested in end-user health and wellbeing. This is despite the offer of professional guidance at the start of reconfiguration projects.

The finding comes at a time when social distancing and employee wellbeing are regarded as vital design considerations for post-Covid working environments. For companies struggling to get workers back into the office, these results are unlikely to further encourage staff. It was recently reported that ‘half of workers would quit if they had to go back to the office five days a week’ showing that ‘office animosity’ has reached fever pitch.

Oscar Acoustics, a provider of architectural acoustic finishes, recently conducted a survey of 206 architects focusing on employee welfare. The results exposed shockingly low levels of consideration given to Covid-19 safety measures and acoustic health in corporate office spaces. As we head into 2022, the implication is UK office buildings are not being properly adapted for returning workers’ physical and mental wellbeing.

On a practical level, smaller workplaces are proving problematic. Almost a third (29 per cent) of architects highlighted ‘limited space’ as a main barrier to specifying adequate levels of social distancing. For them, the greatest challenge when reconfiguring office space is designing-in break-out areas and meeting rooms (56 per cent). Specifically, 35 per cent of respondents felt fixed partition walls are a major limitation to the successful reconfiguration of an office.

Furthermore, budgets for reconfiguration projects are often seen as too small, with two in five respondents (40 per cent) indicating penny-pinching as a major obstacle when working on office fit-outs. An equal number also flagged ‘inflexible existing finishes’ as another problem, compounded by restricted spend.

The survey explored how effective office redesigns are when it comes to tackling excessive noise within working spaces.
 Shockingly, given it’s an issue that can cause serious adverse health effects, just 9 per cent of architects feel that acoustic design is given the attention it deserves by their clients. Almost half (43 per cent) find clients to be unaware of their legal requirements for protecting employees under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations.

When asked to give a reason for this lack of awareness or worse, apathy, over two-thirds of architects (67 per cent) say small design budgets are their biggest design challenge to achieving noise reduction.

Ben Hancock, Managing Director at Oscar Acoustics, said: “In the wake of the pandemic and with the surge of returning office workers, it’s disappointing to see that some companies are still unaware of their responsibility to staff’s health and safety.

“The effects of excessive noise can be a silent killer and it’s clear that the impact is still being underestimated. Studies have proven that excessive noise can increase the risk of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes and the rise in office re-fits and refurbishments has given companies a chance to overcome these issues head-on. If businesses are to come back stronger than ever, then it starts with creating the right environment for staff to thrive and feel at ease.”

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