Robert Manassero, Global Product Marketing Manager, Plantronics
Modern, open offices with aesthetically-pleasing design and environmentally-friendly materials are making headlines around the globe as being great places to work. However, a painted cement floor and reclaimed wood walls don’t necessarily meet all the needs of many employees today. Most workers say their top priority at work is a place where they can actually get their work done – and this beats out amenities like free food and onsite daycare. What really matters is the human experience, which is often overlooked in office design.
Plantronics moved to an open plan office a few years back, and we immediately began noticing noise problems. Groups collaborating ad-hoc often inadvertently disturbed nearby colleagues who were trying to focus while working. In the new open office, neither the group nor the individual had a place to go to get their work accomplished efficiently and effectively. Although I’m sure we’d all agree that companies that create open work spaces do so with the best intentions, visually stunning designs look great at first, but can very often lead to unhappy, even absent employees. According to a workplace survey by architecture firm Gensler, over half the employees working in open offices are disrupted by other when trying to focus. And for the employees who do come into the office, a study by the University of California shows each interruption costs employees an average of 23 minutes to get back on track.
We found that a key ingredient for curing open office noise is related to biophilia
We knew something had to be done. So, in our journey to solve the noise problem in the open office for ourselves, we developed a unique solution called Habitat Soundscaping, and launched it publicly in July 2017. It mixes nature-inspired audio and visual features to immerse workers with both sight and sound.
A Case for Nature in the Open Office
The original inventor and Director of Product for Habitat Soundscaping, Evan Benway, recently wrote a blog post about the Soundscaping Evolution. In it, he touched on the benefits and drawbacks of open office environments and how designing the built environment around people creates amazing workplaces. It’s an interesting read, and the main point is that it is clear that open office noise is a problem that needs to be cured.
Today, I’ll take that point one step further. I’ll explain the latest science and technology being used to address noise management in open office environments, and why nature, specifically nature-based sights and sounds, coupled with adaptive software, i.e. Habitat Soundscaping, can create the ideal environment to boost employee well-being while enabling focus and collaboration.
We found that a key ingredient for curing open office noise is related to biophilia. Despite its medical-sounding name, biophilic science actually describes something quite beautiful – the love of life or living systems. So, what does biophilic science have to do with open office environments? Studies show introducing biophilic elements to an office environment can deliver powerful benefits for its inhabitants, such as:
• 15% increase in well-being
• Up to 6% increase in work productivity
• 15% increase in creativity
By combining biophilic elements, specifically the sights and sounds of nature, with sophisticated and adaptive audio software, you end up with a solution that dramatically reduces intelligible speech and other distracting noises. This results in a peaceful, welcoming environment where focus and collaboration can happen in the same place, at the same time and where employees can thrive.
Research has proven natural water sounds such as waterfalls or a babbling brook are the most effective means to reduce the impact of intelligible speech while also creating a comfortable, refreshing environment for work. Research also shows that bringing visual connections to nature into the office can improve cognitive functioning and mood of the people in that space.
Habitat Soundscaping for Open Offices
At Plantronics, we wanted to see how we might apply these findings to the open office. The culmination of research and development led us to the creation of intelligent, biophilic soundscapes, attuned to the psychological and physiological needs of the building’s inhabitants, and that adapt as the acoustics of the office change.
Nature-based visuals such as birds, creeks and digital or in-office waterfalls create visual cues that tie into the audio element of Habitat Soundscaping and ensure a harmonious, multisensory experience. Intelligent software drives the whole system by combining features that continuously adjust to changing conversation levels to keep the open office perfectly balanced acoustically.
Additionally, the system monitors the speakers and sensors by sending test tones to make sure each component is working correctly. This takes place on a scheduled basis, running in the background, making sure the system is working correctly and not adding to the responsibilities of the IT team to manage yet another system.