Philly Work Design TALK Recap: Acoustics and Managing Distraction

Last week in Philadelphia, we assembled a crowd at the AIA Center for Architecture in Philadelphia to discuss one of the most pesky, pervasive workplace issues: acoustics. As if on cue, the HVAC system grumbled to life. Bob Fox, our moderator, leaned in closer to the mic to kick off the conversation with the all-star panel: Victoria Cerami, CEO of Cerami & Associates; Steve Johnson, a principal at ADI Workplace Acoustics; and Leigh Stringer, a senior vice president at HOK. The event was sponsored by Haworth and IMS Technology Services. Below, check out choice quotes that the panelists shared with the audience.

From L to R: Box Fox, Leigh Stringer, Steve Johnson, and Victoria Cerami.

Bob Fox: Share some of the acoustical issues that each of you is seeing in the industry right now.

Steve Johnson: “The complaint is that people can’t stay focused in open-plan. WSJ wrote about this — every time [you’re] distracted, it takes twenty-three minutes to get back on track.”

Victoria Cerami: “Projects are driven at cost per square foot, and densification leads to acoustical issues. As you densify, how do you bring alignment to culture and densification?”

Leigh Stringer: “Chronic stress is a real issue; constant email, constant noise. Compare that to life on the savanna: if there was a loud noise, that meant there was a lion. The problem now is that it’s chronic, noise is everywhere: sporadic and unpredictable. It’s the sporadic nature of it that really is the cause.”

Guests had the opportunity to mingle with the panelists before and after the TALK.

Bob Fox: Is there a way to make distinction between sounds? (i.e., Coffitivity vs. a lion on the savanna).

Steve Johnson: “There’s a huge difference. Think about fork lift at Home Depot vs. the sound of a babbling brook.”

Victoria Cerami: “It’s really all about the definition of territories in your own ecosystem and how well that’s adjusted.”

Bob Fox: How can the adjacency of activity and function help or hurt things?

Steve Johnson: “Being the acoustics guys in the room is not always the most fun with creative people!” Johnson added that he’s walked into some jaw- dropping spaces with horrible acoustics, and some totally drab spaces with amazing acoustics. “Acoustics doesn’t have to be pretty, but can make the workplace.”

Leigh Stringer: “Not all noise is bad. Some companies want a buzz. For the first time in a long time we’re not tethered. But there’s also a sense of ‘nesting’: we want our own space.”

A special thank you to our sponsors:

IMS Technology Services
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