It’s Worse than It Sounds


I’ve visited a lot of facilities that seem to have all the indoor environmental factors under control, but one. After all, everyone knows if the lighting’s poor, if it’s too hot or cold, if the air’s stuffy, the furniture’s uncomfortable or the place looks unattractive.

But acoustics? They’re a mystery to most. And because so few people are familiar with the mechanics of speech privacy and noise control, they’re not considered when the space is designed and, instead, become something that ‘just happens’ to it.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t only lead to spaces that sound bad, but to ones that perform badly too. In my line of work, I’ve seen the effect on all kinds of environments. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a corporate office, a call center, a hotel or a healthcare facility – the people visiting, staying or working in that space are affected in a number of common ways. 

Of course people are uncomfortable in an environment that’s too loud or reverberant (a lot of echo). But did you know they are equally uncomfortable if it’s too silent? If you work in this type of space, you know what I’m talking about. You and everyone around you can hear every little noise and a lot of each others’ conversations. You feel self-conscious about the sounds you’re creating, making it impossible to work in a truly natural way.

Let me share an interesting story to help illustrate my point about how spaces can be ‘too silent.’ I was on a sales call with one of our account managers. We were deep in conversation as we walked across the parking lot, but when we stepped into the client’s office, we immediately began whispering. We weren’t talking about anything private, but the ambient background sound level in the office was non-existent, so we knew that anything we were saying would clearly be heard across the entire floor. And, apparently, so did everyone who worked there – they didn’t dare make a sound. Sure enough, as we checked in at reception, I heard the gentleman we were going to meet excuse himself from the meeting he was currently in, saying that he had to be in another one shortly. That meeting room was down a long hallway and around the corner from where we were standing!

If you work in a similar kind of space, you’re probably also bothered by the lack of speech privacy. For most, having a conversation overheard by an unintended listener is merely embarrassing (we’ve all had one of those moments!), but for many organizations and professions, it’s actually a matter of confidentiality or security. Here, I’m thinking about banks, law firms, healthcare, military and policing facilities, to name just a few. In some fields, it’s even required by law and legal relief can be sought for a breach.  In our own office, speech privacy is key because we’re talking about employee and financial matters, debating corporate strategies and hatching new R&D plans.

If you can understand almost every word, conversations are also difficult to tune out (unless you’re my kids). If you’re interrupted by someone talking, your train of thought is disrupted, your pace slows, you make more errors and, ultimately, you feel tired and stressed out. Other kinds of noises have the same disruptive effect and, depending on the nature of the task you’re working on, studies show that it can take up to a quarter of an hour to refocus your thoughts. That can have huge impact on your productivity! You may find yourself working from home or elsewhere when you need to concentrate on an important project.

If you work in a space that is ‘too silent,’ chances are that you’re not too happy with your environment, no matter how good the lighting, how perfect the temperature, and how wonderful the decor.  That’s the textbook definition of the ‘weak link’ – the one shortcoming that reduces the benefit of the rest.

You put a lot of effort into your space, so I’d like to end today’s post with a simple call to action several of our reps often use: Make sure it sounds as good as it looks!



Next time: the ABCs of effective acoustics.

Content coming soon.

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