#wtrends liveblog2: distant birdsong

Back in the room and seated, we’re talking sedentary behaviour (great isn’t it?) with Chris Lees of Zurich Insurance and William Fawcett of Cambridge Architectural Research. Hopefully we will avoid the preposterous “seating is the new smoking” suggestion. Refreshingly though, Chris is an occupier – the only one of a kind here today talking about their workplace, but he still brought his own boffin with him. I’m envious, I don’t have one.

Chris’ team at Zurich installed 700 infrared sensors under desks bleeping whether someone was there or not. Interestingly no-one seemed to have minded, or covered their sensor in tin foil. The great thing about academia is the terminology applied to the ordinary – so we have people sitting at desks being an “episode”. Its never going to be the same again.

Amidst the waterfall of graphs, the surging swell of trends and the crash of correlation, what did we learn? People sit at desks for short episodes and long episodes. Chris added some interpretation in that we need to support the provision of a choice of settings with the appropriate technology and complementary management and operational culture – and that combined, this approach is aligned with a wellbeing agenda. I’m still not sure where the sensors contributed, though.

Paige Hodsman of Saint-Gobain Ecophon (a manufacturer of acoustic products) brought us a psychological approach to resolving office noise distraction – psychoacoustics to you and I, of course. “Noise” being unwanted sound. As we evolved outdoors, it’s the outdoors that provides the sound absorption we need – but we built sound-trapping boxes to live in. The hypnotic beauty of birdsong, bubbling brooks and the ocean shore replaced with the irregular disruption of phones, keyboards, copiers,traffic and the generally-less-than-choral human voice, all of which we cannot habituate to. But we all instinctively know how annoying “noise” is – don’t we?

Some useful practical solutions [huzzah!]- dedicated quiet areas for focus, acoustic treatments (*available from Ecophon, probably), meeting tables separated from work areas, visual cues as to how to use space, control density, education through etiquette around courtesy, and taking a weighty mallet to the dreaded squawk box. Actually, I added the last one. Common sense but sadly rarely considered.

Strangely, a mobile phone hasn’t sounded all morning.

Gazing out of the window at the metropolis, we are a long way from birdsong. A post-technological tragedy.


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