Rethinking Walls

Chris Grenville
8th February 2017

The advent of the open workplace plan almost immediately led to the discussion regarding the pros and cons of this design. Fortunately, new research has given additional insights into what does and does not work in various workplace configurations. Meanwhile, new technologies and concepts in office design continue to find new ways to make open floorplans more effective.

In spite of the improvements in technology, a study found 13% increase in people reporting not having access to a quiet place to work.

Open Floorplan Research

To help improve our understanding of how open designs function in the workplace, the University of Sydney analysed office data from the University of California at Berkeley’s Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE). What they found was that the biggest concern from employees was the lack of sound privacy. Up to 30% of workers in open workplaces were dissatisfied with the noise levels in their offices.

Probably one of the most significant findings from the study was that employees in open floorplans were no more satisfied with the ease of interaction that those in private offices. Clearly putting workers in an open space together is not an easy solution to better communication. Both those in private offices and workers in open floorplans complained about issues of communicating with others.

Not only do workers complain about excessive noise in the workplace, studies have shown that the noise is more than an annoyance. A louder office setting resulted in higher levels of epinephrine, and indicator of increased stress. Workers also showed poorer performance on performance tests that were given after working in a noisy office.

The Future of New Walls

The open workplace has seen many permutations. Rows of desks in a typing pool gave way to cubicles and then different types of sound absorption and privacy panels. Many of those added privacy, while making communication more difficult, or added soundproofing without creating an overall plan for how people who work together.

Rather than acoustical panels, many of the best new ideas in walls are take completely different forms. Walls of vegetation are being added. These absorb sound, improve air quality, and provide a stress-reducing touch of nature. Portable walls like the Flexi-Walls and movable booths are creating ways to adapt the workspace to adjust to changing demands.

Storage walls are another excellent option. In spite of the dreams of computers leading to a paperless office, workers still have plenty of paper and other items to store. Short credenzas can provide storage and a sense of personal space without blocking conversations. Higher storage units can form a wall to divide the room and provide mixture of storage alternating with open spaces.

Smart room dividers add privacy without completely blocking off sight and sound. This can facilitate communication while still making employees feel less exposed. There is also the added benefit of allowing employees to customise the look of the panels on their side.

Regardless of your business needs, we have solutions to help you. Contact us now to find out how we can provide better options for your workers to combine communication, privacy, and good acoustics.