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Optimize Your Work Environment

Optimize Your Work Environment

With so much focus on getting the sound right within an auditorium, doesn't it just make sense that our daily work space should receive equal auditory evaluations?

When leading a service, it's important that the message be heard loud and clear, which is why so many churches allocate funds for expensive high-tech equipment. To reap the benefits of audio gear, then, an acoustical profile needs to be performed. 

With so much focus on getting the sound right within an auditorium, doesn't it just make sense that our daily work space should receive equal auditory evaluations? In the interest of productivity and stewardship a church office environment should not be an afterthought.

According to Vince Williams, administrator of the New Life Christian Center, Turlock, California, the benefits of a "good" sound environment for an office include: improved communications, more intelligible telephone and interpersonal conversations and a sense of privacy between spaces.

Gwenneth Glenn, office administrator for St. James Episcopal Church, Taos, New Mexico, stresses the importance of quiet since, of course, their priest needs privacy to study and counsel. "Plus, all of us who are working need privacy as well," says Glenn. "For example, I need quiet so I can think and stay on track to create and produce eleven publications per week."

Although the church office is carpeted Glenn says the overall planning did not take into account how noise from rooms that share a common wall would affect work patterns. Glenn's office shares a wall with the church's music room.

"Office spaces are often overlooked acoustically," agrees Sean Rexach, technology director for AcoustiMac, Tampa, Florida. "If you're working in an office space that is riddled with echo and reverb due to sound bouncing off solid surfaces and walls then communication becomes difficult, less intelligible and might even escalate to the level of frustration for all parties in a conversation," he says. "Whether it's a conference call, a staff meeting, or simply face to face, having decent acoustics in the space always makes conversations more pleasant for everyone involved."

Joseph De Buglio, owner of JdB Sound Acoustics, Ontario, Canada, says that churches shouldn't stop at the office. Sound requirements should be assessed for the boardroom, foyers, fellowship halls, church gyms, classrooms and hallways.

"A good sound environment leads to higher productivity, fewer absentees and a happier staff," he says. "A church should consider options for all areas of the building and talk with a sound expert for help."

Art Noxon, acoustical engineer with Acoustic Science Corporation, Eugene, Oregon, says when he consults on a church projects, the office acoustics are always part of the job—if offices are being built at the same time as the sanctuary. 

"The problem is many times they are not being built at the same time. So, the job of acoustics becomes more difficult, because of the many design and construction decisions that have already been made, without any regard to acoustics," he says. "Office design for noise control is not simple, it involves the coordination of many disciplines at one time, at the design stage of the project."

Most church office plans that he sees traditionally include separated offices, each with a door that opens into the hallwaydaycare, choir practice, prayer room, pastor office, counseling, accounting, graphics, restrooms and so on, room after room. 

"In the middle of all this sonic mingling, a number of levels of acoustic sensitivities appear and become involved in the church office floor plan," Noxon says.

Acoustic Standards

According to Rexach, modern standards for retrofit of acoustic treatments entails the most sound absorbing surfaces modern science has to offer, and deploying the right amount of coverage to the sound reflecting surfaces in the space.

"The industry standard for office or commercial space applications is to cover about 20 percent of sound reflective wall surfaces with acoustic absorbent material," he says. "Going above the standard (up to 30 percent) may result in improved overall performance of your treatment, however if you go too far (40 percent or more), you may over-deaden' the room;  while excellent for recording studios, it's not practical for an office setting."

Tools of the Job

Richard Roos, fire and acoustics technical product specialist at ROXUL Inc., which provides Safe'n'Sound acoustic insulation to churches, says sound isolation is important for mitigating sound emanating from both inside the space and from outside of it.

"The high density of Safe'n'Sound slows the sound wave propagation through wall and floor assemblies. The result of this slowing is less vibration energy that would excite the drywall and structure within the assemblies," he says.

"Sufficiently controlled sound environments allow for workers in offices, such as churches, to focus better on their tasks—which have been shown to lower stress and improve productivity.”

Jon Bosaw, national sales manager Contracting & Pro Audio at Rane Corporation, Mukilteo, Washington, says the company sells some products that mask noise as part of their feature set, which is important to a church. A clear example of noise masking could include creating privacy for pastoral offices.

Bosaw notes, "Churches seem to design the looks of the building first and then discover the problems with sound," he says. "In the office environment, you aren't dealing with big speakers or trying to project the audio at a specific location. If sound is a problem in an office you can first use traditional dampening materials. If that doesn't bring the sound down then you have the option to mask sound so no one can listen to the conversation."

Understanding the Office

The church office complex is a multipurpose space, one with many different types of activities all taking place at the same time, oftentimes in adjoining spaces or those just down the hall from each other. Therefore, the type of: wall, ceiling, air conditioning, doors and even the type of hallways—all matter.  In addition, careful planning and execution of layout—what office goes where—should be considered. 

"Office acoustics involve varying degrees of privacy. Privacy is a condition of space that hangs between two separate featuresone being sound isolation and the other being the background noise floor," Noxon says. "The more isolation and louder the noise floor, the more private the space is."

Doors do not mean Privacy

You may believe that simply shutting your door will ensure privacy. Not true. One of the weakest links, acoustically, in offices are doors.

People close doors to keep noise and random traffic out of their space or to minimize sounds within from leaking out and mixing in public corridors. The problem is the difference between an open or closed door is typically only 10 dB—a sound level that is noticeable but does not create privacy. 

"Doors are capable of blocking about 25 dB of sound. But the air gap around the door, typically 1/4 to 3/8'' around the three sides and 3/4 to 1'' or more at the bottom, totals up to be an effective 10'' x 10'' hole in the door. That's a 15 dB leak right around the edge of the door," Noxon explains.

Final Considerations

The person in each office has a certain role which requires different levels of interaction and seclusion. According to Noxon each work area needs a balanced amount of the following: some sound isolation between themselves and the other activities around them; an amount of general background noise to help cover-up sounds from within or without; and some clarity in the communication channels between themselves and certain other people in or near their office. 


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