New workspaces are in a ‘convergent evolution’; we must identify our needs now and learn to cater to them over time for healthier and more efficient workplaces and workforces.
As an acoustician working for a sound and AV company, I have seen a marked difference in the trends over the last year as designers have dared to venture into unmarked territory, allocating budget to items previously ‘value engineered’ – a euphemism for ‘removed because we don’t understand or value its benefits’.
What have we learned so far:
- We don’t work at the office all of the time; we can agree that it’s great working at home in some ways, and really bad in others;
- Some activities at home and at the office are the same, but we have a very different expectation when we ‘go to work’, and that is an appealing factor; and
- There has been a quantum shift in our dependence on ‘tech’.
Employers want productivity, which depends on employees’ efficiency and retention, which relies on employee satisfaction; together, this encourages an enthused workforce as the company grows.
What this satisfaction-productivity debate doesn’t always consider is how the workplace – moving from simple functionality to a destination that promotes staff wellbeing – can support neurodiverse employees. A peaceful, homely interior that offers choice is often far more conducive for these employees.
Four critical considerations
Acoustically speaking, every business needs to provide a workspace that accommodates and celebrates all employees, ways of working, neurodiversity and a constantly changing hybrid work model - all to ensure that productivity, inclusivity and wellbeing are front of mind.
To create a functional and productive workspace that is conducive to creativity, productivity and efficiency for all employees – including neurodiverse employees – workplace designers and managers should focus on four key areas.
1. Make sure your tech works
Ensure that your audio and video technology are simple to use. The acoustics of a meeting room must also ’sound good’. A room that echoes, when paired with a Zoom call, means employees are less commanding/authoritative. Picture absorbers, soft furnishings on the walls and suspended acoustic panels above the meeting table can reduce excess noise, making it easier to concentrate for those who may be hypersensitive. Gentle background music in tech-free zones can also benefit neurodivergent needs.
2. Provide home comforts
As workplaces adopt a hybrid style of working, it is important to consider that the office could (and should) be a place to offer a variety of workspaces – much like home – such as comfortable spaces to take time out and informal low-light meeting areas offering a muted and calm space. Using thick curtains to create private areas, or softening the decor in meeting rooms with cushions and rugs on the floors/walls not only offer acoustic improvements, but also add to comfort levels. Agility of space is achieved using a variety of furniture styles, offering options and personalisation for everyone.
3. Zone your spaces
Acoustic panels on the walls and ceiling are a great way to bring sensory elements into a space, using texture and colour of fabrics, whilst improving the sound experience. This also allows zoning of areas to offer options of high and low stimulation, noise and quiet. Curtains, acoustic pods and moveable fabric and screens can ensure that all users create the space that they require. CNC recycled polyester board is a great way to customise a space with organic patterns, company logos, etc while adding absorption and visual separation.
4. Incorporate biophilic design
Introducing natural materials into the design of a space has many benefits - harmonising with nature can mitigate stress and increase happiness levels. Plants are an excellent way to bring acoustic treatment into a space - from living walls to plants positioned around the office. Plants absorb and diffuse sound, and using these in concentrated work and meeting spaces can have a significant impact on health and wellbeing. Thoughtful and sustainable design will create a workplace to be proud of.