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Does your workplace sound good? It impacts productivity and well-being

A modern Dubai workplace, with soundscaping sound waves floating in the background

Soundscaping and generative technology can transform workplace in the Middle East

This article was originally published in Fast Company Middle East by Suparna Dutt Dcunha.

Creating work environments that attract employees means rethinking how these spaces look. A modern office should be a place that invites people to be comfortable and at their creative best.

Open-office layouts might help optimize collaboration, but they also result in a lot of noise pollution.

While music is preferred over any other background noise in the workplace, some might say that silence is the best for concentrating on important tasks.

But silence isn’t an option in the workplace.

Noise is the number one complaint in most shared buildings like workplaces. Some spaces are too loud, while others are too quiet. Whatever the problem, the sound of most buildings isn’t productive. But it could be.

“Think of your favorite piece of music or the sounds from your favorite beach… Sound can be so positive, yet its benefits were never considered in workplace design,” says Evan Benway, Managing Director at Moodsonic.

“Sound is the No. 1 complaint in workplaces. It poses complex challenges for people who design and manage workplaces, and the historical focus has been on minimizing it.”

Originally launched in London, Moodsonic is now expanding into the Middle East, with installations at NEOM and other Saudi Arabian projects. Its new showcase in Business Bay, Dubai, along with lighting and acoustics specialists Acoulite, brings the scientifically-designed sounds of nature to create a different sensory experience.

Improve focus and well-being

Research shows that the sounds of nature, which people are often deprived of in urban environments, can benefit well-being and improve people’s focus, problem-solving, and collaboration.

“Scientists have known for decades that certain sounds––particularly from the natural world––can profoundly benefit human health. Generating natural sounds indoors and tailoring them to support activities known as soundscaping,” says Benway.

Showcasing how soundscapes can take interiors to the next level, Moodsonic and Acoulite in Dubai’s Business Bay allow practitioners in the UAE to experience that firsthand as they pair circadian soundscapes with circadian lighting to optimize the well-being benefits.

But, you might ask, won’t piping repetitive birdsong a surefire way to drive people crazy?

Moodsonic claims it uses generative technology to ensure the sounds don’t repeat, with sensors that allow the audio to adapt automatically to changing environments. “Moodsonic can understand changes in noise and occupancy, automatically adjusting various characteristics of the soundscape in real-time,” says Benway.

Moodsonic is also zonal. Different sounds benefit different people or are better suited for certain activities. “In one area, the sound can be calm and restorative, while in another, it’s stimulating and energizing.

We give options––different sensory spaces to choose from.”

When it comes to personalization, in smaller spaces like meeting rooms, people can directly control the soundscaping. Also, distinctive regional sounds can link a building to its surroundings. It has created soundscaping based on natural gems, including Australian islands, Japanese rainforests, and California beaches.

But can scientifically-designed sounds of nature improve the well-being and productivity of employees?

“For thousands of years, our ears have helped us make sense of the world. We now associate certain sounds, like running water and gentle birdsong, with tranquility and safety. They’re inherently calming: our muscles relax, heart rate slows, and we feel happier and safer,” says Benway.

Building on these innate responses, it crafts soundscapes for shared indoor spaces. Since buildings can be complex and unpredictable, there’s research investigating the psychology of human perception of sounds—psychoacoustics.

“A lot of nuance and experience goes into this.”

Benway claims its clients have tested Moodsonic and found improved focus (+30%), collaboration (+20%), creativity (+19%) and relaxation (+10%).  

Organizations in the region are increasingly working to make employees happier and more productive, and soundscaping could be another feature to add to the design.

“Sound brings another level of insight to the workplace. Soundscapes can automatically respond to the ebb and flow of a space, and the sonic data from sensors can help real estate teams better understand the sonic health of their buildings and how to improve them over time,” he adds.

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