Offices can be noisy places at the best of times, but after the pandemic changed the way such places operate, managers at Meta noticed that the racket emanating from its workspaces was louder than it used to be.
This was apparently mostly due to the uptick in video calls as those in the office communicated with team members working remotely.
The increase in noise prompted Meta to call upon the services of architects, design firms, and furniture makers to come up with a new, quieter office setup that would make its spaces more pleasant to work in, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal.
Seven of the eight groups working on the project successfully finished the task, with their efforts set up in a lab so that workers could try them out for effectiveness.
Different ideas were submitted, some featuring partitions with different heights, a semi-enclosed videoconferencing booth, and a wheel-based workstation that enabled an employee to easily push their desk away from co-workers if they were about to embark on a video call or some other equally noisy task.
A simple solution might have been to build additional soundproof booths, but according to the Journal’s report, Meta found the idea “impractical,” as building regulations in some of its locations stipulated that each one would require a sprinkler.
After assessing the contributions, some were found to fall short in terms of functionality, or simply failed to reduce noise levels.
But one design that did prove a hit was the Cube, which used a soundproof movable screen. Workers seemed to like using one or two of the curved screens to effectively build their own cubicle in the way they wanted, incorporating them with several screens. The temporary cubicle could also be quickly dismantled once the noisy task was finished.
The special screen is made of felt-like recycled PET plastic, which can absorb much of the sound that strikes it. Those working on the the Cube noted that while a very noisy workplace can be an irritant for many of those experiencing it, a completely silent space can also be a little unsettling. So getting the balance right is key.
Meta is continuing to refine the design of the Cube and plans to supply it to its offices globally, with around 10% of its workspaces expected to use it. It’s also testing an audio moodscape system that could further dampen noise, while at the same time adding more carpet, as well as noise-reducing ceiling tiles to its offices.
Of course, Meta’s project started well before the company did something else recently that must have made its office a whole lot quieter — lay off around 11,000 workers globally in November as part of a major restructuring effort.