Sustainability — Interior Design Declares is one of several UK Declares pledges/ movements, under the Built Environment Declares body. Quiet Mark is proud to be one of its 129 signatory companies, made up of leading UK Interior Design Practices, many of whom are responsible for a significant amount of workspace design and renovation.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Poppy Szkiler, CEO of Quiet Mark.
Poppy Szkiler is CEO Founder of Quiet Mark, a global certification program providing consumers and specifiers around the world with a short-cut to find lowest-noise high-performance products and acoustic building materials to reduce unwanted noise. She was named “the Queen of Quiet” by The Sunday Times newspaper in 2021. She is a passionate campaigner about the impact of sound on well-being. The company is on a mission to help create peaceful living.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today
Maybe the hours day-dreaming mesmerized by my 1970s mechanical music box playing I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony as a little girl had something to do with my unusual career. Where a full expression of that substantial vision really burst forth suddenly a lot later. I had a career path in the film industry up until the age of 30, after a major reappraisal of my life and a deep desire to seek purpose I offered to help my mother start a trading arm to the Noise Abatement Society charity my grandfather had founded in 1959 but had no clue at the time it was going to become a long passionate very important journey in my life. My personal revelation of the power of sound came through tangibly experiencing a sense of incredible peace transferred during times of listening to Christian worship music and in long periods of silence in prayer. Though Grandpa’s work had always been there through my childhood and as a young adult it had not captured my heart or even been on my radar as something I would be part of let alone lead into the next generation, up until my own awakening to the profoundly creative force of sound and with that came a sense of responsibility, the seemingly infinite depths and invisible wonder of sound to be stewarded, the science explained, its impact articulated and the flip side of course being how negative and destructive sound can be when misused or misunderstood, why my family’s work had been established to protect society against the sources of contextual unwanted noise which ruin quality of life, as much as quietness or beautiful harmonious sound can create wellness and be entirely life giving.
The business model of Quiet Mark is designed to help solve noise pollution by undertaking the verification of manufacturers claims and acoustic measurement of products, providing a free guide to help easily find the quietest products, lowest noise technologies and best solutions to unwanted noise in the world in one hub. Quiet Mark does the complex acoustic science and product performance evaluation to make solutions to noise easy to source and solve the problem with the best engineering currently available. With the acoustics knowledge gap we seek to educate in our campaigning to help nurture a greater understanding of necessity to human health to invest in acoustic design of products and living spaces and to give consumers or trade buyers an informed choice. We are constantly updating and evolving our extensive databases to provide an evolving definitive resource platform to help everyone find the quietest products and solutions to unwanted noise. We champion the technical achievements of industry creating life changing products with acoustic design.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
Great question. Funnily enough it makes me think of a couple of things I’ve enjoyed on Disney+ quite recently. The first being ‘The Beatles: Get Back’, the second being a documentary on the ‘Making of Pixar’s Soul’.
In ‘Get Back’ we’re given a day by day view of The Fab Four huddled together in a tiny studio space in Apple’s basement, creating the songs that will end up making their final studio album, ‘Let It Be’. We see everything that goes into their creative process, warts and all. The laughter, the play, the fights and frustrations. You come away wondering if that album, and rooftop performance, could ever have been made, within its tight deadline, remotely, with each Beatle locked away in their own mansion. Would it have had the same groove and feel? I doubt it. There will always be tasks that need to be done collaboratively, ‘in the sandpit’ if you will.
In the ‘Making of Soul’ doco, the film producers tell how, with seven weeks of production remaining, the whole Pixar team had to pack up their computers and work from home to complete the film during the first pandemic’s first lockdown. Something that, were it not for COVID, you’d have said was completely impossible. However, they do comment that they were fortunate that lockdowns struck after the ‘sandpit’ collaborative parts, such as character development, look-dev, voice casting and recording, had already been completed and they were now in the full post production phase of sound-mixing, animation, lighting and shading; i.e. tasks that require more individual focus and that are easier to do remotely.
So, with this in mind, to answer your question: I would say that there will always be work projects that are better done collaboratively, in groups of two or more people, together in the same room, and tasks which are done better, quietly alone. With further layers of care around the very different needs of being an extravert or introvert.
In view of that, companies will either have to adopt flexible hybrid models that allow employees to come into the workplace for collaborative tasks, and work from home when more suitable, or, if the company wants their staff to always come into the workplace, then that space needs to be designed in such a way that the noise that comes out of ‘the sandpit’, doesn’t interfere with the people trying to focus on their solo tasks, or have someone speaking loudly on a Zoom call, in a large open plan office, annoying their colleagues.
Image: The Quiet Mark certified BlockO Base Acoustic Meeting Pod, enabling work and meetings to take place in a more private setting and where you can focus without distraction.
What I do think will be different is that, in light of the Great Resignation, companies who previously didn’t pay enough attention to their team’s wellbeing, will now have to do so, otherwise risk losing their staff. More than four million US people quit their jobs, according to a summary from the Department of Labor — the biggest spike on record. Employees, who’ve had time to reevaluate their lives during lockdowns, will vote with their feet and leave if they don’t feel listened to.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
According to the Leesman Index, which has measured the employee experience of almost 1M employees, at 6.2K companies, in 107 countries at the office and at home to build global benchmarks of the best work environments in the world, the biggest difference between new workplaces that succeed in providing the users an outstanding experience, and those that fail, is in support for activities that we know are generally well supported at home, e.g. thinking, having private or business confidential conversations. In other words, activities that rely on good acoustic privacy.
Leesman found that noise levels are important to 71% of the employees, yet only 33% find them satisfactory in their workplace. In Quiet Mark’s own January 2022, Employment & Work Acoustics US poll of 1,000 American adults, 22%, nearly a quarter, report they would seek a total career or work environment change to limit noise, even considering a complete change in industry to do so.
Before the pandemic, in 2018, roughly 70% of U.S. companies had some type of open office plan with 15–20% adopting a totally open plan. However, today, the wide-open office, popularized by tech industry titans like Google and Facebook, is fast becoming a thing of the past. The fad has become almost dangerous in the face of the virus — employees often sit packed in large, open rooms, with desks placed close enough to reach out and touch your coworker.
Image — A Quiet Mark Certified Vetrospace Acoustic Office Pod that incorporates critical health technology, including anti-microbial lighting, anti-viral nano-coating and clean-air ventilation — one of the most hygienic, private modular spaces on the market.
Our guest on Episode 30 of The Quiet Mark Podcast, was Adam Cossey, Partner at Hawkins\Brown, the UK’s 7th largest architectural practice, with offices globally, including Los Angeles, US. He spoke of tests that his company had carried out internally, which found that pre-pandemic, the average office needed to allocate 6 desks per 10 staff, whereas now, with hybrid models in effect, that ratio can be reduced to as low as 3 desks per 10.
This saved space has given rise to agile workplaces that incorporate activity-based working, which allows workers to pick and choose settings throughout the office that fit their needs at a given time. This means there may be some open areas within an office that are available to use when a worker feels that is the best fit, but there may also be more private spaces where someone can close a door to really sit and concentrate in silence, such as a Quiet Mark Certified Vetrospace Acoustic Office Pod, pictured above.
This has given rise to new types of acoustic office furniture that have recently achieved Quiet Mark certification and inclusion in our Acoustics Academy platform of verified acoustic solutions for every building type. Products such as Vetrospace’s modular meeting rooms, pods and phone booths, BlockO’s acoustic meeting pods and BuzziSpace’s range of acoustic lighting, and office furniture, pictured below.
Image: The Quiet Mark certified BuzziSpace BuzziJet Acoustic Pendant Lighting for superior acoustics. Its aerodynamic design offers sound-absorbing capabilities, delivering acoustic comfort paired with a powerful light source that emits warm, pleasant light.
In a turbulent world I believe the purpose of business is to solve problems for people and planet, to help to encourage people to grow into the best versions of themselves in the midst of that journey. To be profitable and sustainable to have a core purpose of social impact and to challenge negative mindsets. I most enjoy seeing the potential which can be unlocked when traditional boundaries between businesses are dissolved, where businesses themselves work as teams across sectors collaborating as one, to passionately focus on meeting the world’s problems, with true intention to serve and enable the poorest see their potential realised and not to do business for selfish gain. Each business led with the right heart motive can transform families, a community, a nation, or nations with the right values.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
One recent news report that I read spoke of a frustrated 26-year-old woman working in the finance industry in Dallas. Not all her colleagues were in the office simultaneously, so she found herself in a loud, echoey office, on endless Zoom calls that she struggled to hear, or communicating on Slack. Tasks she felt she could perform more effectively at home.
To add to that stress, she had to spend two hours a day in her car, in busy traffic, commuting to and from work. On top of which, due to the huge increases in fuel prices brought on by the war in Ukraine, the cost had almost doubled and parking had risen to $16 per day. The financial and mental stress had her seriously considering quitting her job.
So, the biggest gap, clearly, is going to be between the employer’s demands on staff to come into the office, versus their employee’s desire to work from home. That’s a tough one, but companies are going to have to listen to their staff and put their well being first. If that means adapting their current office space to allow for collaborative work, social gatherings and cultural development, and adopting more flexible work from home policies, then this may need to be the case.
In November 2021, The Predictive Index surveyed 326 executives about The Great Resignation. The survey attempted to put a dollar amount on this mass work reshuffling. It found that the average cost of a single resignation is $11,372 per employee.
Though this may not seem like a lot, consider that the survey also found that 20% of employees have quit in the past six months. At a 500-person organization, if 100 people leave, this could cost a company nearly $1 million. Wouldn’t a portion of that money be better invested in well being focused workspace design; creating a space and culture in which staff can enjoy working productively, grow together and thrive?
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Very early on, in April 2020, Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, claimed that due to COVID and enforced lockdowns requiring people to work from home, Microsoft had seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.
Prior to the pandemic, if a company CEO told their teams that they wanted to shut down some offices and employ a work from home policy, they would most likely have been met with huge resistance. Managers might have worried that productivity would drop massively as a result, or claim that video conferencing software wasn’t yet at a sufficient standard to make collaborative, remote working possible. Even with the best will in the world, it might have taken a year to achieve the remote workflows, pipelines and infrastructures that lockdowns forced to happen within a couple of weeks, if not days.
This experience has proven that, when needs must, the impossible might just sometimes be possible. It has provided us with a yardstick of what can be achieved when doubt, or negative thinking, is moved to one side. Now, when someone says, “No way! It’s impossible…. It can’t be done!”, we can say, ‘Hold on… Look what we achieved back in March 2020!”
Also, working from home has given people time to reflect on just how chaotic their lives had become, and to adjust their values. Rather than commuting for 2 stressful hours a day, to work in a loud, energy sapping office, people were suddenly finding themselves with time to do their laundry, eat meals together with their families, or take some exercise before work like a socially distanced dog walk or a short bike ride. No wonder Peloton’s global membership base hit 3.1 million at the end of June 2020, more than double a year earlier, as gym closures due to Covid-19 increased demand for at-home workouts.
This change in values has fuelled The Great Resignation. As a society, we have moved our priorities from ‘£Value’ to ‘♡Values’. Workers now expect their employers to make moves to align with their values — and companies that fail to do so are going to suffer.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
I’d like to turn again to our podcast episode with Adam Cossey of Hawkins\Brown to answer this one.
“Over the past 30 years there have been several trends that have become embedded into our way of thinking and designing. Such examples would be sustainability, access and inclusivity, which at first were considered ‘nice to have bolt-on accessories’ but are now essential in the design of a building”, says Adam.
“The wellbeing trend is still in the accessory phase but is, without question, increasingly becoming an essential factor when it comes to building design”.
“Our current £100M Bristol University project perfectly embodies how wellbeing can be factored into a building’s design concept. We are consulting with a number of stakeholders and speaking to members of the community, from students to staff and these conversations are informing the wellbeing requirements of the library. We have had very interesting conversations with first and second years who desire spaces where they can digitally disconnect. This constant intrusion of digital noise within their lives is a common theme we come across. We addressed this request by looking to design an environment which provides quiet digital spaces — perhaps to even disconnect from WiFi in certain spaces! We are looking into natural ventilation, collaborative spaces and quieter working spaces along the periphery of the building which will be accompanied by great views of Bristol.”
“Ten years ago, the focus for a library would have been for designing digital spaces and now it’s about weaving the digital with the analogue. One requirement is to house as many books and collections as we can. This building thus encourages serendipity and a chance to discover. The smell of books needs to be factored in as well! The theme from now on will be addressing different qualities within a space. Acoustics is central to that thinking.”
Listen to Adam Cossey — Partner at Hawkins\Brown, on The Quiet Mark Podcast.
In line with this growing trend in wellbeing led design, in December last year, Quiet Mark announced a groundbreaking, industry changing new partnership with NBS, a leading construction data and specification platform, to empower architects to specify ‘acoustics first’, by providing a shortcut for specifiers to source responsible products.
Quiet Mark and NBS have joined forces to enable the 3,600+ practices that use NBS everyday, to create 13.6M specifications per month, to easily source Quiet Mark certified products and materials. The aim is to elevate the aural design of buildings, optimizing the overall level of acoustic comfort for occupants.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
“Hire well, manage little”. With just these four words, the American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist, Warren Buffett, explained one of the most important traits of the best managers.
However, prior to the pandemic there was unfortunately a sense in many ‘micro-managers’ that unless you could see a team member in your workspace and watch their every move, you couldn’t monitor their progress, or worse, they couldn’t be trusted to do their work and fulfill their KPIs.
I’m optimistic that the pandemic has done a great deal to challenge this rather narrow mindset. Managers have had to adapt to managing their teams remotely and hopefully see that their teams can in fact flourish and be more creative and productive when trusted more and managed less.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
In the past year, up to Dec 2021, the building area applying WELL offerings has tripled from one billion square feet to more than three billion, so that today WELL strategies support the health and well-being of an estimated 13.6 million people in more than 33,000 locations in nearly 100 countries.
Having your company building achieve the WELL standard, provides businesses an attractive way to demonstrate to their teams that their workspace has been improved with their mental health and wellbeing in mind.
And thanks to the institute’s first national campaign, directed by Spike Lee and starring Lady Gaga, J-Lo, Michael B. Jordan, Robert DeNiro, Venus Williams, each encouraging the public to look for WELL’s seal at restaurants, retailers and offices, those employees are now more likely to know WELL and understand its benefits.
The WELL Building Standard (WELL), is a roadmap for creating and certifying spaces that advance human health and well-being. Developed over 10 years and backed by the latest scientific research, WELL sets pathways for accomplishing health-first factors that help every one of us to do our best work and be our best selves by supporting our physical and mental health across 10 core concepts, including air, water, light, thermal comfort, sound quality and acoustic comfort.
Quiet Mark’s CMO and Podcast Host, Simon Gosling is on the The WELL Homes & Sound Advisories, which advises on evidence-based design and performance strategies for advancing health in single-family homes and commercial buildings, across various typologies and regions.
Quiet Mark is now bringing the 1.2K+ Quiet Mark certified products to the global building industry, making a shortcut for architects and specifiers to source the quietest appliances and best performing acoustic building materials.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Wellbeing led design — As mentioned earlier, Adam Cossey at Hawkins/Brown predicts that wellbeing led design is moving from a ‘nice to have, bolt-on’ to a fundamental ‘must have requirement’. The tripling of WELL certified floorspace from 1B to 3B sq ft, globally, would certainly support Adam’s theory. Quiet Mark’s milestone partnership with NBS, enabling the 3,600+ global practices that use the NBS platform to create specifications, to easily find Quiet Mark certified products and materials, using the left-hand filter navigation menu, will now hopefully serve to accelerate that healthy transition.
- A Quiet Home/ Workspace — Our guest on Episode 36 of The Quiet Mark Podcast was Jane Blakeborough, Research Director at Trend Monitor, who spoke about their insightful Top 10 priorities for our homes in 2022 report. Whilst the report was home focused, its findings, which highlight how our lives and values had been affected by the pandemic, are nevertheless equally applicable to the workspace, whether in the office or work from home.
At №5 in the report is ‘A Quiet Home’, stating:
“Noise is very much an invisible pollutant as many layers of sound can build up over time. Whereas previously we may have been able to ignore these layers of sound, working from home, and in particular when on Zoom or in virtual meetings, has made us extra sensitive to the amount of noise we have going on around us in our homes”.
“Spending more time at home during lockdown has emphasized the detrimental effect of being constantly surrounded by noise from domestic appliances, technology and poor acoustics. This in turn is impacting on our mental health and energy levels”.
“Quiet Mark, the international consumer and trade champion certification programme associated with the UK Noise Abatement Society charity, is seeing an increased interest in products that ensure that acoustic design is as important as visual design”.
Listen to Jane Blakeborogh — Research Director at Trend Monitor, on The Quiet Mark Podcast, HERE
3. Clean Air — Concerns over the quality of the air circulating through our homes and workspaces were rising prior to Covid, and the amount of time we spent at home during lockdown only served to reinforce these concerns. (Hence its inclusion at №3 in the Trend Monitor report).
Research by Blueair, (who manufacture several Quiet Mark certified Air Purifiers) found that seven out of ten people, across all generations, worry about the air that they breathe indoors as we become more aware of the risks of indoor air pollution and in particular how it affects children. Bacteria and viruses have long been top of the list of air pollutants we are concerned about, and the pandemic along with governmental warnings against socializing indoors did nothing allay these fears.
Image — The Quiet Mark Certified Blueair Blue Pure 411 Air Purifier is not only whisper silent and energy efficient, the one-button speed control makes it super easy to use.
4. Sustainability — Interior Design Declares is one of several UK Declares pledges/ movements, under the Built Environment Declares body. Quiet Mark is proud to be one of its 129 signatory companies, made up of leading UK Interior Design Practices, many of whom are responsible for a significant amount of workspace design and renovation.
BUILT ENVIRONMENT DECLARES is a global petition uniting all strands of construction and the built environment. It is both a public declaration of our planet’s environmental crises and a commitment to take positive action in response to climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse.
Built Environment Declares can be used by everyone involved in the sector: architects, designers, landscape architects, engineers, project managers, surveyors, developers and estate managers, contractors, suppliers, students, academics etc.
Since May 2019, over 1000 architectural practices in the UK have made a declaration of climate and biodiversity emergency, acknowledging the extreme seriousness of our situation and making a public commitment to positive change. They have been joined by Structural, Civil and Building Services Engineering practices, Landscape Architects, Contractors, Interior Designers, Suppliers and Project Managers in the UK and internationally, amounting to over 7000 practices worldwide.
5. The 4 Day Week — Much has been said in the international news of the 4 day week. As recently as Monday 4th April, in the UK, The Guardian newspaper announced that: “More than 3,000 workers at 60 companies across Britain will trial a four-day working week, in what is thought to be the biggest pilot scheme to take place anywhere in the world”.
4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit community encouraging business, employees, researchers, and government to all play their part in creating a new way of working which aims to improve business productivity, worker health outcomes, stronger families and communities, challenge the gender equality issue, and work towards a more sustainable work environment.
We’ll be watching closely to see the outcomes!
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
In the territory of the great need for us to be authentic and transparent that so often less is more, when i seperate myself from the many goals and pace of schedules to meditate in a time of separation a greater richness and creativity flows through my life. “Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire o still small voice of calm” would be my quote coupled with this most wonderfully comforting scripture: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves, he will take great delight in you; he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” What peace and completeness this brings to know you are known, protected and thoroughly cherished. I found Quiet Mark funny enough in the silence. For me, silence is crucial. It takes me back to what is most important. And when I sit in quiet, I have my best thoughts; I can find answers. Especially now when the world feels so strange, what i hear and experience in quietness is my life source.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
What a wonderful ask, thank you very much. I would be over the moon to have the opportunity to have a private breakfast or lunch with Terrence Mallick. When we launched Quiet Mark a decade ago The Tree of Life was also having its promo window and we partnered with 20th Century Fox to promote the new feature film alongside The Quiet House our out of this world show home, where we played the film on a huge cinema screen in the dreamy futuristic house to thousands of people visiting the largest home show in the UK. The film’s breathtaking cinematography and deepest sensitivity of sound with relationships had many obvious synergies with Quiet Mark. I would truly love to talk to Terrence about his visionary projects and share a heart film-project of mine intricately involving sound.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Readers can connect with me personally on LinkedIn and can always connect with Quiet Mark in the following ways:
As for Quiet Mark: instagram.com/Quiet_Mark
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.