When most people think of the things that get in the way of workplace productivity, acoustics don't usually come to mind. Acoustics for meeting room spaces play a powerful role in determining how well people understand each other, however, especially in hybrid workplaces that use videoconferencing. Although noise pollution is tricky to resolve, there are several solutions for addressing it. Here's how acoustics impact the quality of a meeting and how facilities managers can use acoustic treatments in concert with technology to create better videoconferencing experiences.
Although acoustics aren't visible to the naked eye, they have a profound influence on the videoconferencing experience — especially in a hybrid workplace environment that includes both in-person and remote colleagues. When noise pollution makes it difficult for coworkers to hear one another (low intelligibility), they must either continually interrupt the flow of conversation to ask someone to repeat what was just said or sit in silent frustration as the meeting barrels on, intermittently incomprehensible to them.
At worst, a challenging acoustic environment can cause participants to feel disconnected from the life of the organization, whether they're in the office or working from home. People living with auditory challenges may find it especially uncomfortable to participate in in-office meetings with poor acoustics. Remote colleagues may also feel overlooked when they have a harder time following the conversation than in-office counterparts. Even certain personality types, such as introverts, may find it difficult to contribute their best ideas in such noisy spaces.
When teams come together for a meeting, the unspoken expectation is that everyone will concentrate on the issue at hand. However, poor acoustics often make it harder to focus, resulting in unnecessary mental fatigue and workplace stress, and diminished organizational productivity. In the case of high profile meetings involving the board of directors, clients or external partners, a difficult acoustic environment can distract participants from a mission-critical agenda and make it challenging for the company to come across as professional and polished.
The process of resolving acoustic challenges in a meeting room takes time and requires a multilayered approach. In some cases, especially those in which there's significant frustration among employees but executive leadership is hesitant to rearrange the space or invest in the required resolution, it may be helpful to engage an experienced consultant to conduct a formal survey of the space and prepare specific recommendations for the room in question. That said, facilities managers can often go a long way toward improving acoustics in a meeting room using these five solutions.
Although many companies favor sleek furniture with hard, flat surfaces, this is a prime cause of noise pollution in meeting rooms. These hard surfaces reflect sound waves, which then reverberate throughout the room as people talk, shuffle papers and shift in their chairs. The cumulative effect can be much stronger than you would assume while simply standing in the room when it's not in use. For this reason, consider choosing soft furniture that is upholstered or includes cloth covers, which can absorb some of the sound ricocheting throughout the room instead of adding to the cacophony
Just like with upholstered furniture, you can place rugs, drapes, and curtains on hard surfaces like floors, windows, and walls to improve acoustics in a meeting room. Rugs are discreet, which may make them a good option for companies that place a high value on aesthetics. Drapes and curtains can make a significant difference if your meeting room includes large windows or glass panels, and sound-dampening versions are specifically designed to absorb sound, and meeting participants will need to remember to close them during a videoconference. Adding remote controls to the meeting room's control panel will make it more convenient for people in the room to adjust them as needed during meetings.
You can also install sound proofing acoustic panels that either complement the interior aesthetics or blend effortlessly into the background in meetings rooms to absorb ambient sound. There are even specialized acoustic door panels available that perform the same function, reducing the total amount of reflective surfaces in the room. Acoustic baffles that hang from the ceiling help control how sound behaves within the space and can significantly reduce the amount of noise pollution. A variety of attractive acoustic lighting solutions exist that can help achieve the same goal.
Although drop ceilings present a trade-off between aesthetics and acoustics, they can help mitigate some of the contributing factors that create noisy conditions that makes hybrid workplace collaboration unnecessarily difficult. The higher the ceiling, the more total surface area there is for sound to reverberate throughout the room. By creating a drop ceiling with sound proofing tiles, you can shrink the size of that surface area and further minimize the dissonance in your conferencing environment. If you're designing a new meeting room from scratch or willing to make significant changes to an existing room, you should consider using acoustic drywall for the walls in your meeting space.
The conferencing solutions you use will also influence the quality of meeting acoustics, so it's wise to take a look at the technology you're using now and consider how well it supports your hybrid meeting environment. For example, a solution like the Bose Professional Videobar VB1 includes six beam-steering microphones that actively focus on voices and reject noise, as well as auto EQ that delivers optimized audio to all participants. For example, such a solution can create exclusion zones that automatically focus on the people who are talking, using sound masking technology to exclude ambient noise in the room such as paper being shuffled or chairs being moved. It can even be customized to ignore sound coming from a doorway when people are filing into the room. These sound-masking features make it easier for colleagues joining remotely via videoconference to follow what's being said. Everyone can feel together even when they're not in the same room — enabling teams to collaborate more effectively.
Although it's easy to overlook acoustics, they play a much stronger role in workplace collaboration than many people assume. Noise pollution can quickly derail an otherwise productive meeting, especially in a hybrid workplace environment, and this can cause unnecessary frustration among colleagues. By taking proactive steps to improve acoustics for meeting room spaces, facilities managers can help their companies have better meetings and put forth a more polished presentation to clients and stakeholders.