Acoustics in shared offices

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As new technologies are developed, working environments are subject to constant change. Workers and companies alike contribute new ideas and structures to the shaping of offices and workspaces. Diverse new office concepts arise as a result. Offices used by several workers, possibly even comprising multiple functional zones (open-plan offices and shared-desk offices), present a particular challenge for acoustic planning. The workers in such offices often complain of a lack of privacy and of being disturbed by the speech of other employees, to the detriment of their ability to concentrate and their productivity. Rates of sick leave among workers in open-plan and shared-desk offices have also been shown to be almost double those of workers in individual offices (cf. Bodin Danielsson et al., 2014). Promoting communication is often cited as an advantage of shared offices. In practice however, it was observed that communication is rather shifting from face-to-face conversation to instant messaging and e-mail correspondence (see Bernstein und Turban, 2018).

Shared and open-plan offices require particularly careful acoustic planning. Besides the essential elements of an acoustic ceiling and a carpet, each further planning step must take account of the activities performed in the office concerned. Care must be taken for example to ensure that conversations or telephone calls do not take place in areas where work requiring concentration is performed and would be disturbed. Equally, work requiring concentration cannot take place in areas occupied by team workstations and exhibiting elevated communication levels. Mutual disturbance by different teams must also be ruled out. An adequate number of privacy and conference rooms and the involvement of the workers in the planning process increase acceptance and facilitate co-working in such offices.

An activity analysis is always the first step in the planning of offices; a design of the office and the office zones based on that analysis should be standard procedure.

In the German state body of regulations, shared and open-plan offices are governed by the technical rules for workplaces ASR A3.7 'noise'. These rules place room acoustic requirements on the reverberation time in office areas used as call centres and in shared and open-plan offices (refer to the legal provisions governing workplace noise). The technical rules for workplaces ASR A1.2 'room dimensions and free movement areas' also set out basic conditions that are helpful for acoustic planning.

Further guidance on planning and design can be found in the DIN EN ISO 3382-3 standard and VDI 2569 guideline and in the IFA's practical guidance on shared offices. DGUV Informative publication 215-443 on acoustics in offices is also currently undergoing revision; the new edition will provide orientation and information on office design.

In the age of efficient space utilization and aesthetic considerations, the safety and health of workers can and must continue to be of paramount importance.


Jan Selzer

Ergonomics, Physical Environmental Factors

Tel: +49 30 13001-3424

Dr Florian Schelle

Ergonomics, Physical environmental factors

Tel: +49 30 13001-3410
Fax: +49 30 13001-38001