Speak Easy: Speech Privacy in Open Offices

Today, open office and panel based furniture systems can be seen everywhere because it has many great advantages: The smaller footprint afforded by systems based planning reduces lease costs. Using system furniture instead of building walls also lowers construction costs. Panels and components of systems based furniture can be moved; reused and reconfigured. Open offices also encourages communication and teamwork.

But the last advantage is also a disadvantage.  Not only does the greater interaction increase the exchange of ideas, it also increases the number of distractions and is responsible for a loss of concentration and limits personal and company privacy.  Who hasn’t wished they could block out co-worker’s chatter, been distracted by loud idle banter while on a business call or had to step outside to take or make a personal call. And how do you protect confidential information in an open office?

Maintaining acoustical privacy is a huge challenge in open office design.  The use of soft surfaces such as carpeting, acoustical systems panels, acoustical ceiling tiles and white noise can help absorb some of the noise- but you will probably still hear your neighbor’s conversations and vice versa. Here are a few cool solutions that help solve the need for acoustical privacy.

Airflake partition, Abstracta; Atlas XL easy chair , Lammhults;, Millibar Lounge table, Lammhults.

The Abstracta’s Airflake is a stylish way to dampen sound transfer.  The 15” sound absorbing hexagon felt panels can be mounted to ceilings or walls with an aluminum rail or can be attached directly to walls. Panels come in four patterns and are available in brown, red, green, black, and white.  The panels can be mounted to ceilings or walls with an aluminum rail. Also available is Airflake News, which has magazine pockets. There are endless configuration possibilities. Design your own Airflake screen with their easy to use online configuration tool

 Babble Voice Privacy System. Images courtesy of Herman Miller, Inc.

Herman Miller’s Babble Voice Privacy System addresses the need for speech privacy during phone conversations. Babble is small desktop system comprised of a main unit that plug into a phone and two small speakers. When you push the “on” button, Babble captures your conversation and plays an amplified, multiplied and scrambled version of it on the speakers. You can hear all sorts of conversations but you can’t really make out a single word.  The best way to understand how it works is to hear it for yourself.  Look for the video at this link to see Babble in action. 

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