The architecture and layout inside modern office buildings has changed considerably in just a couple of decades, going from numerous segregated rooms to an open plan style which allows for collaborative working and communication. With so many people in a single area, the walls which once gave people the separation for calls and meetings have gone, leaving people with very little privacy or quiet areas to think.
This issue has become prevalent in a variety of places, from offices and call centres through to retail stores and high street banks. The need to talk privately has not disappeared, even if the walls have.
However, when it comes to the modern office, this problem can be addressed with AV technology.
The solution is to install Sound Masking, which is a dedicated audio system that adds an unobtrusive background sound to reduce the intelligibility of speech from adjacent colleagues or customers. It was created to address the lack of speech privacy in open office workstations. In audio terms, intelligibility relates to how audible someone’s speech is, measuring how much of what they are saying can be heard from a particular distance.
Sound Masking works by broadcasting white or pink noise through a speaker to reduce distractions or provide confidentiality. It is most frequently used in large open plan office environments such as call centres where there are large a lot of calls occurring at once, preventing the person on the phone from being distracted by other conversations happening within close proximity.
Sound Masking works by creating ambient sound to cover distractions.
As well as the typical overcrowded office situation, another common use of Sound Masking is in high street banks and other financial services where conversations between the customer and staff need to be kept confidential from anyone else around, ensuring complete discretion at all times.
The technology used in a Sound Masking system usually consists of a dedicated Sound Masking Generator which is a device that you install in the area you want to mask. It will then generate white or pink noise, and allow you to control the equalisation of the device to mask the sound to the right level for your environment, ensuring the sound cover is not too much or too little.
A Sound Masking Generator is usually connected to a conventional public address amplifier system and will be distributed through ceiling speakers placed around the room to ensure the sound masking is evenly dispersed throughout the controlled environment.
Sound Masking is a highly effective way to stop people from being distracted by each other when making phone calls or having conversations within an open plan area. It not only helps to prevent distraction and confusion, but can also encourage better concentration and productivity as unwanted noises disappear.
Typically an office without Sound Masking will have an ambient sound level of under 40 decibels. An Ambient level is defined by the noise which occurs when nobody is present in the room. Conversational speech levels tend to be near 65 decibels causing conversations to be understood, and distracting to others, from up to 15 metres away. Adding sound masking to increase ambient sound levels to around 47 decibels does not stop local conversation, but limits the radius of distraction to around 4 metres.
In recent years a number of psychological studies have been undertaken in office environments to gauge the need and effect of Sound Masking. In one study it was found that there is a modest stress increase and diminished motivation caused by typical office noises, including speech. The use of sound masking under the control of the worker was recommended as the most effective way to remove these noises.
In order for Sound Masking to work it must reduce the difference between the steady background level and the transient levels associated with both speech and other sounds. The masking sound itself must not change rapidly and should be as meaningless as possible, which is why white or pink noise is most commonly used, which makes a sound similar to an air conditioning unit.
If you have decided that you require Sound Masking in your workplace then you will need to establish exactly what type of equipment you need to ensure your system works most effectively based on the size and shape of the room of where it will be installed.
The system capabilities must also be determined based on the amount of people in the office. A system with basic sound masking will be ideal for a low number of people in a bank or shop, but if it is for a large call centre you will need a more complex solution with many zones of sound masking and is able to integrate with the rest of your AV system.
The main element which you have to consider is the size and placing of the speakers which will create the white/pink noise, as well as the Sound Masking Generator. To ensure you have installed the speakers with the correct spacing you will need to consult a professional AV installer to assess the location and advise the right Sound Masking system for your requirements.
Thank you for reading our guide on Sound Masking. We’ve looked at what Sound Masking is and how it can benefit your office or other workplace to provide better privacy and reduce distractions. If you have any further questions regarding Sound Masking then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team of AV experts.
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