According to a decree implemented by the Finnish Ministry of the Environment at the beginning of 2018, sound insulation for office spaces must be designed and implemented in a manner that ensures an adequate sound environment. No country has previously had regulations concerning office acoustics, meaning that Finland leads the way in construction quality in this respect. The requirements were introduced based on Finnish studies proving that room acoustics affect work efficiency and wellbeing at work. Valtteri Hongisto, Research Group Leader at Turku University of Applied Sciences, visited Martela to give a lecture on acoustics to our employees, and he also had time for an interview.

What will change with the decree? What are its practical effects in terms of interior design and furnishing?

The new decree concerns the construction phase, but it also attracts attention to improving acoustics generally. Furniture can be used to considerably improve acoustics – the combined effect is important.

Why is it important to pay attention to acoustics?

Office noise increases stress hormone levels and has a negative effect on work efficiency. Noise reduces productivity by as much as 10 per cent (Indoor Air. Hongisto 2005). While the efficiency of routine work may not necessarily decrease, noise is a burdening factor and increases stress hormone levels (Journal of Applied Psychology. Evans & Johnson 2000). This has an adverse effect on performance in work that requires concentration. However, people respond to noise differently: some are able to ignore it – others, not so much. Many people listen to music during the working day, but researchers have found that music with lyrics is just as distracting as speech. However, there are differences between individuals in this respect as well.

Does acoustics affect people’s behaviour in work environments?

I don’t think anyone has studied the effects of local acoustics or noise levels on mobility or changing workstations. That would be a very relevant topic!

What are the best ways to create a good environment in terms of acoustics?

In the design phase, it’s important to pay attention to the significance of acoustics and integrate acoustics in the design. In a renovation project, measuring the current status is a good starting point. After that, goals are set for acoustics, and the changes necessary for achieving the goals are planned. In new construction projects, it’s easier to get good results, as the requirements for suspended ceiling solutions, for example, in terms of acoustics, can be taken into account comprehensively.

What products are most effective in terms of acoustics?

In office environments, effective solutions include the installation of sound-absorbing materials on the ceiling and walls, high sound-absorbing partitions, speech-cancelling sound systems, textile carpets, sound-insulated telephone booths and sound-insulated rooms for work that requires concentration. The drawing up of joint office rules also considerably improves the functionality of a new work environment.

In what kind of sound environment do you work?

In the mornings, I usually do research-related writing in my office for around 2.5 hours. I close the door to my office, which takes care of the acoustics. After that, I usually move about more freely in the workplace, as my work does not require peace and quiet.

The Ministry of Environment will publish a more detailed guidebook on room acoustics by September 2018.

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