Under some conditions, a tall partition system that extends from the floor to the ceiling is desirable to control the noise in an office environment. There are certain issues that need to be addressed before investing in such a partition system.
One issue is fire safety. A tall system that blocks the exit signs, fire extiniguishers, sprinkler system or audible alarm noise could be deemed unsafe by the local fire marshall. This would require it’s removal or modification to meet the local fire codes, per the Fire Marshalls demands.
One assumption that is dangerous, is thinking that you know your ceiling height. You might think that you know the ceiling height, but a careful measurement is required. Ceilings tend to sag in unsupported areas, and could vary by an inch or more in various places. It is important to measure the distance from the floor to the ceiling, where ever the panels will meet the ceiling, to be sure that the panels will fit. In cases where you have a typical “drop ceiling” the height can be adjusted upward, by twisting the support wires holding the ceiling framework. In the case of a solid ceiling, you don’t have this option. The panels must be slightly shorter than the ceiling height, or they will not fit.
Then there is the issue of air flow. Office environments will usually have some sort of ventilation provided by the air conditioner or heater, or maybe just windows. Enclosing a proposed office by using a floor to ceiling partition system could impede the airflow to that section and require venting. Venting by way of low and high vents can accommodate some minor level of convection. As hot air rises, it can flow out of the propose office through the high vents and thus create a slightly lower air pressure at the bottom, where cooler air can flow into the proposed office through the low vent. A competent panel manufacturer should be able to provide the vents, built into the panel system to accommodate airflow into each office.
Lighting is another concern. Panel systems are normally opaque, so they block light. If an office has it’s own lighting then the problem is mostly solved. However, if a propose office does not have lighting, then some sort of window arrangement built into the panel system would be needed to provide some light in that office. It is a good idea to take advantage of natural lighting that comes through skylights, or windows facing outside. If a partition system has built in windows in strategic locations that accommodate the use of outside natural lighting, then this could reduce amount of time where the electric lights are turned on during the day, thus reducing your energy consumption.
One good reason that tall partition systems are used is to supremely control the noise. Short panel systems are not so effective at this, as sound travels as a “wave”, and simply goes over the top of the panel systems and travels throughout the office, until absorbed by soft treatments, such as carpet, drapes, or other absorbing structures. However, sound waves can transfer through a panel system too. The materials used inside a panel is of concern to those seeking maximum noise reduction. Consider this: Sound travels most efficiently through dense, hard mediums. Thus, sound travels better (and faster) through water, than air. Hard mediums can transfer sound better than soft mediums. Another example of this is considering ballistic plastics. A glass surface is hardly bullet resistant because it is hard, and brittle. It cannot withstand the kinetic energy of a bullet, because it cannot flex enough to absorb the energy without breaking. Polycarbonate is a form of clear flexible plastic. Polycarbonate is more bullet resistant than glass, because it is more flexible, and can absorb the impact bette, without breaking. For that matter, Kevlar fabric is bullet resistant largely because of it’s combination of great flexibility and high tensile strength.
Now let’s get back to the sound issue. Panels that are made from hard materials will transmit sound from one side to the other, more efficiently that panels made from softer materials. Softer materials are harder for sound to transfer through. They absorb better, and transmit less efficiently. Shear weight is another plus, for the better sound acoustic rated panels. Considering the issue of sound travelling from one side of a panel to the other side, a heavier weight panel will resist this transfer better than a light one.
If you need to maximally control and reduce the noise in an office, then the solution is to find a panel that has a somewhat “soft and heavy” internal structure. This will insure that sound will be absorbed, and not transfer across the panel core, in any great degree. The resistance of sound travelling from one side of a panel to the other side is called “sound blocking”, which differs from sound absorption. Typical fiberglass cored panels, are good for sound absorption, but if the fiberglass is housed in a hard perforated shell, or surface, the sound blocking will be compromised. 1/2” Thick sound rated boards, are soft enough to absorb sound, flexible enough to prevent sound transfer, and heavy enough to block sound transfer. This type of construction can work better for noisy offices than a hard shelled, fiberglass cored panel. Sound absorbtion is not the only factor.
The last issue to be considered is the connection system for the panels. Many manufacturers provide connectors that must be fastened with screws or bolts from below and above the panel system. If the panels go to the ceiling, then it may be impossible to fasten the connectors. If tools are required, you could end up needing a full 12” of space above the panels, to accommodate the use of a phillips screwdriver for a typical fastener system consisting of screws. Some manufacturers may only require an inch or so to get the connectors in place. This is ideal. The small gap at the top could easily be filled in by using upholstery foam, cut to the appropriate width and height. It is a good idea to check with the manufacturer of the panel system, and ask how the connectors are installed, and how much room is needed to accommodate the use of tools (if required) to connect the panel system together.
So, that’s about it. In summary, consider the actual measured ceiling height, fire safety, lighting, air ventilation, sound blocking and absorbing qualities, and finally, the connector installation requirements. Attention to these details could save a lot of headaches later.
Cubicles can hurt productivity
When the Intel Corporation originally introduce the idea of cubicles as offices, they were trying to create the most egalitarian atmosphere possible. Intel wanted everyone to feel as important as everyone else. There would be no need to scratch and claw your way to the corner office with the big window, because there was no corner office with the big window. Everyone had the same space with the same equipment and they all worked from a level playing field.
Unfortunately, this attempt at equality led to lower productivity and more
stagnation. Workers spent their days closed into their impersonal closets
with only their computers, files, phones, and photos of home. Cubicles without
windows blocked off the natural light and kept the employee blocked from anything
going on outside the cubicle. Cubicles also promote a sense of hiding from
the management, which can make it tempting to waste time rather than work
because no one can see you. Intel has realized the error of the cubicle, and
has developed a new floor plan that includes open spaces where employees can
collaborate and breathe fresh air again. If other companies follow suit, productivity
could be on the rise again.
Isolation Curbs Creativity
cubiclesA traditional cubicle has three walls that are at least four feet tall. Most are even taller so that you can't see over the tops of the walls when you stand up. These closed off spaces separate each employee dramatically. If an employee needs to have a short conversation with the person who sits two cubicles away, the most efficient thing to do is pick up the phone and call their cubicle. This stifling separation kills off any potential creative energy that might exist between colleagues who are working on the same problem. If workers can't communicate face-to-face, great ideas that could have helped increase productivity are lost among the maze of cubicles.
Cubicle arrangements usually cause workers to think twice about visiting
another worker's cube for a quick chat, too. In many offices, the cubicles
are arranged in long rows. That means that you would have to walk all the
way to the end of the row and back up the next row just to talk to someone
you need to talk to. Once you get to the other cubicle, you will probably
stand in the doorway to have your conversation, which means that you are blocking
the only open wall. The person sitting in the cubicle can become claustrophobic
quickly with someone shutting off the only open space in the cube.
Noise Levels Higher With Cubicles
Cubicles are supposed to be designed so that each individual has a private space in which to conduct business. The trouble is that the walls of the cubicles actually conduct the sound from inside the cubicle up and out into the room. Someone who is having a phone conversation can usually be heard three desks away. This creates a constant buzz of noise throughout the office, which can be distracting and annoying. Another noisy side effect of cubicles is the tendency of workers to raise their voices to communicate with their neighbors because it is much easier than standing up and walking around to the other person's cubicle, especially if the communication is short.
cubiclesPeople who are trying to think may have trouble concentrating when
they are listening to someone chat with a client a few cubicles over. It can
be even worse when someone is having a personal conversation that drifts across
the tops of the cubicles. Cubicles actually decrease the amount of privacy
that each worker has at his or her own desk. Higher noise levels can create
a sense of hostility among workers who are frustrated that they are constantly
bombarded with meaningless noise all day long.
Cramped Spaces Cause Depression
When a company constructs cubicles in an office space, there is usually a serious focus on packing as many cubicles as possible into the area. This leads to small cubicles that are barely large enough for a normal desk chair and a computer desk. Employees who are forced to sit in these cramped spaces for 8 hours daily can begin to feel depressed because they do not have any open space to stretch in. Some cubicles are not large enough to allow a desk chair and computer desk to be ergonomically correct for the worker, which could lead to repetitive motion injuries.
You would think that a small space that only allows the worker to interact with the computer directly in front of the chair would lead to higher productivity rates because there are fewer distractions. In reality, the exact opposite happens. The worker begins to search for ways to mentally escape from the tight cubicle space. That could mean surfing the internet and playing with social media rather than working. That could mean reading a book or finding a subtle game to take their mind away from their surroundings. The lack of natural sunlight inside a cubicle can lead to depression as well. Workers who begin to become depressed from sitting in a small cubicle all day will be less productive overall.
Cubicles Dampen an Employee's Sense of Self Worth
Having a space of your own can make you feel like you are an important part of the company. When that space is made from impermanent walls and is just like all the other cubicles, your sense of self worth can plummet. Consciously or not, a worker who spends a great deal of time in a cubicle can begin to feel unimportant. This lack of self worth will be reflected in the energy that the worker can devote to the tasks at hand. It may seem counter-intuitive, but removing the walls and having an open office without any separation could actually be better for the psyche of the workers than providing them with their own tiny cubicle spaces.
Researchers from the Mind Lab in England discovered that people who work in cubicles process information at a slower rate. Their productivity can be almost half of the production from workers who normally work in an open space. Human interactivity is an important element in keeping someone energetic and able to perform at decent speeds. Without interactivity, the workers can become stressed and the creative production centers of the brain are shut down. The visual interaction between workers cannot be replaced by e-mail and telephone communication within the office. Employees need to be able to see one another and talk about their projects so that they can feel more like a team and reach better solutions to problems faster.
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