Investing in office acoustics is very effective, says SilentLab boss

Research shows that appropriate acoustics in the office play an essential role in employee performance. It is worth addressing at the design stage, but there are also measures that can be implemented in existing spaces. “Investments in good acoustics pay off even in the most demanding cases within about half a year,” says Jaroslav Vendl, head of SilentLab, in an interview.

How did you get into this field? Why did you become interested in acoustics and soundproofing in offices?

It was, as it happens, a coincidence. Eight years ago, my business partner Petr Konečný and I started Verti, a company that offers glass partitions in offices. I noticed that phone boxes were being built out of partitions and plasterboards that didn’t work at all. Coincidentally, a few months later I literally ran into Honza Kaňka, who is a trained acoustician, at a party. Word got around and we started an acoustic products company together.

What developments have you seen in the market in recent years when it comes to acoustics in offices?

It’s such a never-ending story and I’m sure it will continue to evolve. When we started going around to our customers eight years ago and offering them acoustics, they told me they didn’t need to deal with acoustics. And if they needed to make a phone call somewhere, they would go to a phone booth out on the street. Back then, acoustics were addressed in perhaps one out of twenty projects, if that.

What does it look like today?

Today, investors themselves have been thinking about the issue from the very beginning. In my opinion, however, the amounts being invested in acoustics are still not enough; unfortunately, the tendency is to save money.

What do you mean by that?

Many options exist for acoustic treatment of office space. There is a lot that can be done, but also a lot that can go wrong. From my point of view, the trend where investors are finding that acoustics in the office is something that makes sense to invest in is also positive.

Are there OHS standards in the Czech Republic regarding acoustics?

Unfortunately no. And I sincerely hope that it will come to us one day. We have standards for interior lighting, for example, but standards for acoustics are only in the discussion phase at the moment. If you look at the Nordic countries, they have acoustic standards. It is no coincidence that they are world leaders in acoustics.

What effect does poor acoustics have on employee performance?

You get problems with concentration, headaches, and lowered immunity due to constant disturbances. These are all parameters that employers should take into account. As I said, it pays off financially for the employer.

Do architects today address acoustics at the design stage?

Yes, some do, but architects and designers are primarily concerned with the visual element, and they are usually not interested in who will deliver the element. And of course many architects today do not address acoustics at all.

Doesn’t the acoustic solution hinder the design that the investor envisions?

Not necessarily. If the investor shows foresight and thinks about acoustics from the beginning, the elements can be incorporated tastefully into the interior and work both acoustically and visually. If you implement acoustics after the fact, you usually have to make some compromises. We can deal with that too, however, starting from the architect’s design and delivering an element that respects the design and colour scheme. Our aim is to make sure that the elements in the interior are not distracting. Occasionally a customer requests a more prominent element, but we usually deliver them in muted, non-distracting colours.

If the acoustics are not addressed in the design phase, how problematic is it to introduce the relevant measures afterwards?

There are two levels here. If you address acoustics after the fact, you are in a way breaking down the interior design concept that the architect and designer had in mind. Ideally, investors should work with the acoustics from the beginning so that all the elements can be incorporated visually and the whole thing will be visually appealing and functional. The other side of it is financial – the components are not much more expensive than at the beginning, but if you address the acoustics at the beginning, you save on, among other things, the element that you can take out of the space and put in an acoustic element instead. You can actually make money on acoustics.

Make money?

Take a look at – if you enter the dimensions of the space, the rent fixing period and the hourly rate of staff, you’ll see what you can “make” on acoustics. It’s proven that well designed acoustics will lead to an increase in worker concentration rates of up to 15%. When you multiply that by your staff’s hourly rate, even in the most acoustically challenging spaces you’ll see a return on your investment in about six months.

What is the solution to bad acoustics? What helps to reduce noise?

Acoustics are solved through absorbent materials such as acoustic foam absorbers for walls, ceilings or even free-standing solitaires. These absorbers capture the distracting echoes often heard in meeting rooms on video calls. The feeling of well-designed acoustics is like sitting in your living room.

We provide advice on acoustic solutions for the space, including which products to fit. Logically, we usually suggest our products because we know how they work and we can rely on them.

What are the specific issues to take into account with acoustics in larger spaces?

The larger the space, the more complicated the acoustics design becomes. In large spaces, acoustics are very difficult to fix after the fact, so it is important to consider them in the initial design. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done for an older building, though. For example, the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague has beautifully designed acoustic measures. It’s a listed building, so you can’t make major structural changes, but there’s a very successful and essentially invisible acoustic element.

What is MICROOFFICE and how does it work?

This is a trend that has come out of Finland in the last ten years. It’s a kind of micro meeting room in the middle of an open space. It’s a bit of a hybrid model. In open spaces we have nowhere private to make a call; the conference room fits a larger group of people, but is often occupied by one or two people in a meeting. That’s where these micro meeting rooms come into play – they have excellent acoustic parameters (you can’t hear what’s going on outside  and no one outside can hear you), so you can also conduct discreet meetings. Plus, they have good lighting, air exchange and usually an electrical outlet.

How do you decide how many micro offices to put in one open space?

The typical rule is that for approximately 50 to 100 square metres, it would be good to build one micro office to serve five to ten people.

What are the trends for micro offices and what are the pitfalls in selection and design?

Years ago, these booths were rather laughable; later the most commonly implemented element was micro offices for one person making a call. Today it is more common to look for larger solutions you can also hold meetings in. This versatility makes them more space efficient than conventional conference rooms.

As far as common pitfalls go, a micro office should work acoustically and also have proper ventilation. And that’s a bit of a challenge.

Sounds complicated.

There’s certainly a science to it, but we try to present acoustics to our customers in the clearest possible way. And I think we’re succeeding. The Czech Republic has made huge strides in acoustics in the last eight years. SilentLab delivers its products to five continents, so the Czech market is small, but compared to other countries we are not doing badly at all. The Nordic countries lead the way, of course, but I dare say from my own experience that we are close behind them, even ahead of the United States and many countries in Western Europe. I am very happy about that.

Jaroslav Vendl

In 2015, he founded VERTI, a company that manufactures interior glass partitions and mobile walls. He decided to pursue a career as an entrepreneur after several years of working in sales and marketing strategy during his studies at the Czech Technical University. Meeting acoustic expert Jan Kaňka proved a decisive moment, and shortly afterwards, they founded SilentLab. The company focuses on functional acoustic solutions in interiors, and its flagship product is MICROOFFICE mobile acoustic offices.

Jaroslav sets the company’s vision and the direction it takes. He has extensive experience in leading multidisciplinary teams. He has two children, soon to be joined by a third. In order to unwind, he enjoys climbing rock climbing walls, cycling, or going for a run in the countryside.