How do office acoustics affect creativity?

If you asked the majority of businesses what it is that drives success and sets them apart from their competition, creativity would be fairly high up on the list. 

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To quote Albert Einstein:

Creativity is intelligence having fun.

And in today’s world, the need for creativity and innovation is essential for a thriving, progressive business. 

As a result, companies are cultivating cutting-edge office spaces that are designed to represent the companies’ image and bring people together, with design and layout concepts such as:

  • Open spaces
  • Hot desking
  • Podcast Studios
  • Communal work areas
  • Modern furniture
  • Vivid colours

These elements create an atmosphere in which employees feel more open and comfortable whilst utilising the office to its fullest potential.

Open-plan office
An office should be a reflection of your company

Second thoughts

Office layouts have changed a lot over the century, with a shift from cubicles to open plan spaces, as highlighted in this post by Creatif. 

With the rise in open-plan work environments, criticisms are coming to the surface, with many people having second thoughts about its effectiveness. 

Among its biggest criticisms are complaints about noise in the form of overhead conversations, ringing phones, and clattering machines. 

In order for open-plan offices to fulfil its primary purpose – to foster creativity – Sound Zero gets a lot of enquiries about how we can acoustically treat offices for the benefit of those working in them. 

No noise or some noise?

Mehta, Zhu and Cheema (2012) published a paper studying the effect of noise on creative task performance. 

Their methods were as follows:

  • Subjects performed various exercises designed to measure ideational fluency and open-mindedness while a soundtrack played in the background.
  • The track either played a low (50 decibels), middle (70 decibels), or high volume (85 decibels).
  • A fourth group performed the same exercises without any accompanying soundtrack to establish a baseline from which to measure the collected results. 

Contrary to expectation, the fourth group did not perform top scores. It was, in fact, the participants who were exposed to midlevel noise (70 decibels).

Coffee shops and showers

To put 70 decibels into context, it is roughly equivalent to the bustling sound of a coffee shop or restaurant. 

The sound of a bustling coffee shop is good for concentration
The midlevel noise of a bustling coffee shop is surprisingly good for concentration

It also approximates the loudness of a running shower, which could explain why some of our best ideas come to us whilst we’re lathering ourselves. 

What can we learn from creativity and noise experiments?

It’s clear that creativity is dependent on the right level of noise, with 70 decibels being the ‘sweet spot’ when acquiring those creative ideas. 

Now we know why creatives flock to coffee shops to get work done. Or is it just the caffeine?

The problem with offices

Armed with this data, we have an idea of the ‘right level’ of noise that produces the most creative ideas.

But how do we keep that noise at 70 decibels?

Larger offices mean louder environments, and we know that keeping volume at a consistent level in line with creativity is a challenge to say the least. 

And it’s not just a case of telling people to be quiet.

Please be quiet note
Asking office staff to keep quiet can be counterintuitive to creativity

Quite often it’s the office acoustics that is the cause of all your creativity-stunting woes. The hard, shiny surfaces of tables, windows, and floors make your office a Pandora’s Box of uncomfortable and debilitating noise.

What is the solution?

Luckily, there are many solutions to improving the acoustics of your office, and ultimately, unlocking your creative potential. 

We always advise people to explore cost-effective options first. Those simple tweaks may be the ideal solution in dealing with bad acoustics. 

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Aside from office acoustics, you may find that your office lacks impact and doesn’t act as a creative hub in the way that is required to stand out in today’s competitive world. 

If this is the case, and an office fit-out is what’s needed, Sound Zero offers a variety of options to treat office acoustics whilst delivering ultimate design innovation. 

Lindhill Properties boardroom
Printed Wall Panel Pros, Lindhill Properties boardroom
Funding Circle HQ
Pyramid Profile foam on the ceiling of the Funding Circle HQ
Modus Acoustic Pod
Coloured Pyramid Profile in an Acoustic Pod for Modus
CorkBee panels
CorkBee recycled tiles make for an acoustic wall with visual impact

Conclusion 

Research suggests that too much noise and too little noise is inhibitive and acts as a barrier to creativity in equal measures. 

Finding and maintaining a steady volume of noise in offices is key to establishing a creative and productive work environment. 

As a creativity-led company, Sound Zero recognises the importance of creativity and innovation in all industries. It’s what sets you apart and makes you a thought leader. 

We’re advocates of productive work environments and firmly believe that your office design and acoustics should be key considerations when fitting-out your office. 

If you’d like to talk about your office acoustics with one of our experts, get in touch today

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If you’d like to talk to one of our experts, either give us a call on 020 3984 2000, email us info@sound-zero.com or fill out the form and we'll get back to you ASAP.