Co-working spaces, open offices and collaborative work arrangements – these trends are making headlines right now. But so too is the pushback. An influential Washington Post article, titled ‘Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace’, cites a 2013 study to argue that “many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance.”
The Post article has led to much discussion on how to keep the best parts of open offices, while minimising the negatives.
“Creating acoustically appropriate spaces within an open office is always a challenge,” says Phil Grimshaw, director at Atkar, a supplier of architectural acoustic panels and ceiling solutions.
“These kinds of spaces allow for collaboration and positive staff interaction, so there are good reasons for the open office, but acoustic design needs to be considered for staff wellbeing, amenity and comfort,” Grimshaw says.
As part of the conversation taking place around open offices, Fortune magazine recently weighed in with an opinion piece suggesting the future of offices is already here – and it’s a ‘best of both worlds’ approach.
“The next-generation office combines private offices, cubicle banks and truly open floor plans (in which even cubicle dividers are dismantled) as well as communal areas and sound-proof rooms where employees can go to concentrate on solo work,” Laura Entis writes.
This also perfectly describes Cox Architecture’s innovative design for Mazda’s new national headquarters in the Melbourne suburb of Mulgrave. Although approximately 80 percent of the 215 staff there work in open offices, this is combined with dedicated quiet rooms and acoustically isolated meeting rooms.
“It is important that there are a variety of spaces with different acoustic performances according to their functions, and that staff can make choices,” says Cassie Collins of Cox Architecture.
“For Mazda, we ensured a mix of collaborative and private environments – workers have the ability to experience sound privacy, even in the shared spaces,” she says.
In the open areas, Cox specified a mix of appropriate, low-resonance soft finishes, acoustic privacy screens on workstations and high-backed furniture to ‘cocoon’ workers. Just as importantly, the building incorporates acoustic panelling by Atkar. The building has received a five-star Green Building Council Australia rating, with the acoustic performance of its spaces contributing credits towards its high score in the Indoor Environment Quality category.
“The client was very aware of its functional acoustic requirements and challenged the design team to specify products that provided superior acoustic performance. We worked closely with the client and consultants to deliver spaces that performed beyond expectations,” Collins says.
“We rely on suppliers to provide accurate acoustic technical data for the products we specify and we usually ask them for preliminary acoustic advice prior to engaging an acoustic consultant,” Collins says. “We often seek installation details from the suppliers to ensure specified products perform acoustically at their best.”