Acoustics and sensitive discussions in the office

Recently, Skein has received several enquiries about office spaces where private discussions are heard outside of the partitioned space. In almost all cases there was a sense of urgency to address the ‘sound’ leak. The distress seen on their faces was almost as bad as money ‘leaking’ from the organisation. We have seen this problem in the CEO/MD’s office, HR office, procurement and board room. Imagine the effect of a leak on someone’s private family issues being discussed in the ‘private’ office of the HR manager or a board room discussion about downsizing / merger or the MD addressing the poor performance of a senior manager. These leakages could cause everything from poor productivity to an outright financial loss.

The wall partition in these situations have varied from block, glass to wood panels and all types of ceiling although mostly perforated metal. It was clear in most situations that none of the materials used for the ceilings or walls had any specification for acoustics. Do you have a technical data sheet? – “No”. Where did you buy the materials from? – “we do not know where the contractor bought the ceiling and wall materials from”. In one case the ceiling tile colour was visibly white while the metal grid was off-white. In another, sound was transmitting from the MD’s private toilet to the open plan office. Yes!

Metal is quite popular due to its aesthetics and the belief that it is low maintenance. There are metal ceilings found in popular local informal markets in Lagos and Abuja. These ceilings look good and some perforated metal ceilings even have an ‘acoustic’ fleece. However, they typically have two problems (a) the gauge of metal used (b) no specification for acoustic fleece used. This is almost similar for mineral fibre and gypsum boards used. What is the specification?

There is a difference between sound absorption, sound reduction and sound attenuation. The gauge, thickness, perforations and type of material for ceilings and walls all have an effect of the comfort and privacy in a given space. In offices where sensitive discussions take place sound reduction and attenuation is more important for privacy than an open plan office where sound absorption allows one colleague to be on a teleconference while another concentrates on her report.

Skein stocks and supplies certified acoustic ceiling and wall products that can assist in meeting the objectives of your office spaces. Feel free to contact us.