According to delegates at the recent European Facilities Management Conference (EFMC) held in Prague, organisations are losing around 24 days of working time per employee per year due to unnecessary interruptions caused by unwanted noise. At an average cost of 1.36 Euros per minute per worker, delegates also estimated that a this lost time could be costing businesses around 15,000 Euros per worker per year.
In an open discussion at EFMC held by Saint-Gobain Ecophon Concept Developers for Office from the UK, Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, visiting delegates were invited to help identify the real business cost of noise in the workplace and explore how facilities managers and activity-based acoustic office design can help to reduce it.
The impact of noise on stress levels has been well documented, particularly in the field of education, where research such as the Bremen Study revealed a direct correlation between teacher heart rates and decibel levels in the classroom. Likewise, noise is also proven to profoundly impact on concentration as found in a study by UC Berkeley. Yet the impact of noise in the workplace still isn’t being properly addressed.
Ecophon believes that facilities managers have a big role to play in the improvement of acoustics in the workplace and reducing the amount of costly working time lost to disturbances caused by unwanted noise. Paige Hodsman, office concept developer at Ecophon, explains:
“At EFMC it was clear that the facilities managers we spoke to understood that working in a noisy environment can be detrimental to concentration and stress levels and therefore have an impact on productivity. They also realised that anything that causes a reduction in productivity can be costly to businesses but there was little understanding about how to control noise levels in an open-plan office environment or who should be responsible for how a business manages the effects of noise.
Hodsman points out that open-plan offices can facilitate productivity but says that to be effective the user must understand how its workers use the space. They may require different zones such as space for informal meetings, space for private phone calls or a quiet area where people can think and concentrate. Each of these areas, she says has a different acoustic requirement. “We must create spaces within the workplace that meet the expectations of the end-user,” she stressed.
John Hanlon, a chartered mechanical engineer who’s been responsible for some of the UK’s most complex facility management contracts, agrees but explains they will undoubtedly face challenges:
“Facilities managers understand that their job has a big impact on productivity but they don’t really have the tools to implement the necessary changes. Research has given us lots of ideas about creating better working environments, where air conditioning, better lighting or acoustics can help promote productivity, but the actual detail of how isn’t easily accessible.
“Identifying a problem is one thing but then there’s actually doing something about it or being able to do something about it. The board that makes the decision to fund the investment isn’t going to fund the investment without a return. And that’s where we fall over I think, knowing it’s broken is one thing but then getting the money to fix it is another challenge.”