Office Design for Well-Being – Acoustic Hubs

Theories about how we respond to our environment have influenced architectural design since the early 1950s and the work of a geographer-poet, Jay Appleton, has generally become accepted as being important enough to influence the way architects have designed our living spaces, both at home and at work.

In his 1975 book, ‘The Experience of Landscape’, Appleton argued that most people have an “inborn desire” for environments that provide the capacity to observe (prospect) without being seen (refuge). He attributed this urge to early human development especially in the Savannah lands of Africa, where hunter-gatherers had a wide field of view across the grasslands as well as places to hide from danger.

It puts forward the idea that human aesthetic experience is based on perceptions that are evolved for survival – places with a clear view provide ‘prospect’ while safe places to hide provide ‘refuge’. Architects (who have taken this on board) design with our well-being in mind. Numerous studies have shown that psychological and emotional well-being is important in our day-to-day management of stress. It is now becoming a universal truth that this affects our performance both at home and at work.

Why do we need to have the right environment to work in?

The evidence that our environment affects our mental health and performance is irrefutable. Paul Farmer, CEO of MIND, has said, “Dilbert-type cubicles won’t cut it in the information economy. To maximise productivity and creativity, it’s crucial that staff have inspiring, flexible working environments. Everyone thinks of health and safety as a physical thing – we mustn’t forget health and safety for our minds.”

It is true to say that due to the way in which we now work, in a fast-paced, highly pressurised and constantly changing world, the need for a ‘refuge’ which still provides ‘prospect’ is increasingly important. With the new Hushhubs acoustic hubs in the Social Spaces portfolio, we’re not just about providing a product that is aesthetically pleasing or acoustically superior, we’re also about creating a space which helps to diminish stress.

The laminated, glazed panels of the acoustic hub provide the ‘prospect’, the view over the entire workspace, while the fabric covered acoustic panels inside provide the ‘refuge’, a place to work or meet in peace and quiet. Further ‘refuge’ can be created by the use of blinds or curtains if more privacy is required

The Changing Nature of the Workplace

Biophilia – the relationship between humans and nature – is the new buzzword. Coined in the 1980s by Edward O. Wilson, it concerns the need that we have to be continually connected to nature. There are plenty of studies to back up this concept, but probably, even without the science behind it, most people would concur that connecting with the natural world around us is restorative and calming.

Natural light, natural colours and natural products all work together to create the optimum environment for productivity and creativity. Contact with nature and our response to it continues to exercise significant effects on people’s physical and mental health, performance and well-being. Natural products are also more tactile, more versatile, and when it comes to good acoustics, measurably more effective.

Acoustic Pods - The Next Generation

Hushhubs acoustic hubs meets all these requirements and more. They are designed with the biophilic idea of a return to the natural world as its basis: using high quality wood, glass, fabrics, laminates and paints to create a multi-purpose space where people can gather and communicate, teach and learn, think and concentrate. They highlight a return to basics, providing light, space and privacy.

Hushhubs are a range of timber framed acoustic meeting rooms or hubs, plus ancillary acoustic products, for use in open plan offices and other places which need private space within a larger area. The beauty of the Hushhub and the different hub sizes available is that they can be adapted and customised to fit your any office requirements, creating multiple working zones in one place. Improved acoustics in the workplace environment also leads to improved productivity and employee well-being.

Understanding Sound and Acoustics

Sound can affect our ability to concentrate and a noisy working environment can have an adverse effect on our ability to work effectively. While many people are aware of the problems created by poor acoustics, often there is confusion about what solutions are most effective at solving these problems. To understand how the solutions work, first you need to understand how sound travels.

Vibrations in the air (caused by vibrations of objects) travel to our ears, and the ear is specially tuned to receive these sounds. Imagine dropping a stone into still water. What happens? Ripples spread out in ever-widening circles. When the ripples reach the side they are reflected back. Sound travels in the same way. When sound energy comes into contact with a surface, it is reflected back. The harder and denser the surface, the more sound is reflected back, so a room with a hard floor and walls creates more noise. When a surface is soft (and therefore more sound absorbent) some sound energy is lost.

How has this affected workplace design?

In the workplace environment, speech privacy is essential, but in many open plan offices, speech is often the loudest source of sound. Working in an office environment typically involves tasks which require concentration, communication, confidentiality, and collaboration. There is also a need for communal areas where employees can relax and chat.

The ability to create a mix of diverse workspaces means that an organisation can create balance for its workers, thereby optimising their potential productivity and output. It is increasingly important for employers to be able to create different zones for different types of work and each has a different acoustic requirement. From creating the perfect acoustic space for that impromptu phone call or a quiet study room, to inviting spaces to work, meet, dine and collaborate, Hushhubs tick all those boxes!

Furthermore, companies that invest in biophilic design in the workplace recognise the importance of health and well-being in attracting and maintaining the best employees. Hushhubs stand out from the crowd because they are inspired by the natural world around us. More than just an acoustic pod, Hushhubs take office design and noise reduction within offices to the next level. Acoustic office meeting rooms don’t get better any than this!