Before the pandemic hit almost 22 months ago (yes, that’s been this long), most people spent the majority of their waking hours at work. As workers return to the office after working from home for so long, many find it difficult to get their jobs done due to all the din in the office. In a study conducted by the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management last August, most of the 2,000 adults surveyed said that coping with office noise negatively impacts their productivity. Headphones can only block a certain amount, and soundproofing a cabin is almost impossible. The ubiquitous sounds are not only annoying, but they’re a serious problem in the post-pandemic videoconferencing, which isn’t going away anytime soon.
Many office workers have learned about Zoom’s video conferencing technology while working remotely. While Zoom exploded when most of the workforce was stuck at home, it needed a way to stay relevant when people finally returned to the office. Last September, it was announcement that Zoom was in partnership with ROOM, a leading manufacturer of soundproofed office booths.
In the past, workers who had to take a work call would either experience the collective background noise at their desks, or they would snuggle up somewhere else, be it in the stairwell, parking lot, or even the bathroom. But now with the advent of video calling, hiding in a strange corner or in a bathroom is no longer an option. Morten Meisner-Jensen, co-founder of ROOM said The Wall Street Journal that even typical office meeting rooms “weren’t designed for video calling.” Lighting is often too dark or too bright in standard cabins, and the sound may become weak or resonant in large spaces. While video meetings weren’t as common before the pandemic as they are now, many workers who needed privacy or quiet were often frustrated with the excessive noise levels in their work environment, there It is therefore not surprising that the appearance of COVID-19 improved fashion soundproof cabins.
Especially in the age of video conferencing, offices need to have an element of noise reduction. Now people are heading back to the office to get away from the hustle and bustle at home. But even so, many offices were not designed with acoustics in mind. Research of sage says 80 percent of US offices are open plan, making it a hotbed of noise and distractions. Worse yet, many offices are being built in city centers, in the midst of a dizzying cacophony of traffic jams, construction works, sirens and car alarms. More often than not, these city offices have an open layout, which only resonates the clamor of the street throughout the office. It’s no wonder that employees who work in open offices are distracted every three minutes.
Links between public health and noise have been established since the early 1970s, when the Noise Control Act has come into play. He cites that “insufficiently controlled noise presents an increasing danger to the health and well-being of the nation’s population, especially in urban areas.” At the time of drafting the law, the main health complications from prolonged exposure to excessive noise were high blood pressure, stress, loss of productivity and, of course, hearing loss. But in 2015, the findings became more dire. University of Colorado researchers discovered that “even small degrees of hearing loss can cause secondary changes in the brain.” These “changes” refer to cases of brain shrinkage, which is strongly correlated with dementia.
It’s not just the thunderous sounds that can have a negative impact. Background noise affects the subconscious, although we don’t always perceive it, and it’s not something your brain can really adapt to. “Continuous exposure to low-intensity background noise does not lead to habituation” according to Mark AW Andrews, director and professor of physiology at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., “The effects are actually getting worse.”
Stand in revolt
The rise of video conferencing during the pandemic brought acoustic considerations for the office. Of course, there are many soundproofing options that can be implemented in a building: wall panels made of dense foam layers, rolling out thicker carpet, installing sound deadening ceiling tiles and even the application of a layer of soundproof paint. But Zoom meetings require isolation and silence, this is where the soundproof modular booths come in.
As the last 22 months have shown (How? ‘Or’ What It’s been so long ?!), things can change without warning. Even with vaccines and antiviral pills, as one variant of the virus begins to recede, another strain spreads like wildfire and cancels plans to reopen. The safest bet in any time of uncertainty is to be as flexible as possible, something that offices and property managers who want to attract office tenants have understood. Employees mostly work on a hybrid model (if they weren’t sent back to a fully remote schedule because of Omicron), so a giant office designed to see the entire workforce of the company everyday is not suitable. for a lot of businesses. So many companies have chosen to downsize into a space that was not originally intended to serve as an office. Having a prefabricated space that could be packaged and rebuilt in another location was one less thing for businesses to worry about.
But will the demand for soundproof office cubicles remain after COVID-19 finally returns to the vicious circle it came from? At least for the foreseeable future, probably yes. If people want to go back to the office as much as the experts claim, it stands to reason that offices will only get louder. Additionally, property managers may want to delay any major soundproofing renovations. Complete soundproofing of an existing space requires that the drywall be torn off and the interior walls filled with metal channels and padded with a fiberglass installation. Although this is not a very complicated construction project, it is a process that the crisis in the supply chain, which might not end before 2023, can easily mutilate.
Even though the Noise Control Act of 1972 is still in effect, its funding was dissolved a decade later, and that’s a shame because our current work climate would benefit greatly from universal noise mitigation. Office designers are often on their own to reduce noise so employees can focus. Sadly, they’ll have to keep doing that, whether it’s setting up an office phone booth or some other way, because Zoom is here to stay, and presumably our desire for peace is too.