Search by Category
Cases & Bags
Computers & Software
Content Management
Lighting & Studio
Mounts & Rigging
Networking & Cabling
Production & Lighting
Security & Safety
Signal Management
Search by Category
More Information
Project List
How Offices Can Benefit from Sound Masking Systems
Posted on Thursday, March 23, 2023
How Offices Can Benefit from Sound Masking Systems

March 23, 2023 - Have you ever just sat back in your chair and thought "Where do I do my best work?" If you have, and you are an office worker, you probably didn’t envision a loud, industrial environment with a ton of distractions. You probably envisioned yourself in a peaceful, but not too quiet, comfortable environment where you could focus. Sound masking systems for the office environment is designed and deployed to bring you closer to that work utopia.

How Does Sound Masking Work?

Philosophically, let’s take you from the library and drop you off at the beach – minus the glare on the computer screen from the sun, of course. A library is overly quiet. Even without the tapping of someone’s pen or the overheard whispered conversation, which is SO distracting, the eerily quiet of the space without background sound can be unnerving. Sound masking systems for office environments are designed to remove those noise distractions and make the space feel more comfortable by adding background sound. Picture yourself at the beach. The natural ebb and flow of the waves raises the ambient background sound to help drown out the noise around you. You know there is activity going on but it is not distracting. You can think. You can work. You can relax. The roll of the waves and the full broadband spectrum of sunlight creates a comfortable environment. Although office sound masking does not provide a full broadband spectrum of light, it does make the environment that much more comfortable.

Sound masking systems typically consist of a control device, some amplifiers and digital signal processors (DSPs) and speakers. They are connected with standard Cat5e or Cat6 cable (the same cable you use to connect your laptop to the network.) Systems are relatively simple to design and tend use a grid pattern as part of their layout. Now, every office space has its own unique characteristics and materials which typically requires some tweaking of the layout or the types of speakers used. The good news is, we’ll do the entire layout and wire diagrams for free. You don’t need to worry about spacing of the sound masking speakers, whether they are installed in the plenum space (the space above the ceiling but below the deck – where the HVAC equipment lives), are directly firing downward or need to be decorative or hidden in another manner.

Once a sound masking system is installed, tuned and balanced for the office space, it usually maintains itself. This means the office sound masking system is set for the space and the layout provided. Adjustments can be easily made to the sound but this is a rarity. However, if an office space layout changes or is reconfigured, then an existing sound masking system should be reviewed to see if any speaker adjustments need to be made.

Why Is Sound Masking Important for Offices?

Pre-Pandemic, commercial office sound masking systems were used to provide speech privacy and productivity. Introducing a gentle, pleasant sound into the space just above indirect speech levels, reduces the level of distraction by an unintended listener and therefore increases, or at least maintains, that same unintended listener’s productivity. Strange concept, we know!

Here’s how the science works. We speak at about 65 decibels, dB, which is a measurement for loudness. As you get approximately 12 feet away, that speech drops to around 46-47 dB. By introducing sound into the space around 48 decibels, sound masking covers, or masks, those indirect speech levels.

Speech privacy is achieved for those having a conversation because there is a wall of sound that at 12 feet away reduces the amount of the conversation to under 20%. Science has shown that if we can understand less than 20% of a conversation then our brains are not interested in learning more and are able to continue focusing on the task at hand.

Productivity is also achieved as that unintended listener understands less than 20% of the conversation and therefore they can maintain their work without distraction.

In a Post-Pandemic world, commercial office environments are still an unknown. However, there is a concern that the well designed environment will become more like the library. It will be eerily quiet. Why? As a space that was originally designed for 100 people will now have an occupancy of 30, 40, or 50 people potentially. The space will "feel" quieter and less comfortable. Commercial sound masking technology will be important in this post-pandemic environment because the introduction of ambient sound into a space will make it "feel" busier and therefore more comfortable of an environment to work.

What Are the Benefits of Sound Masking for Offices?

Drive Employee Productivity

Commercial sound masking systems are designed to create speech privacy – making occupied workstations less disruptive from noise distractions, as well as providing a more comfortable work environment. The ultimate value sound masking provides is greater productivity. Studies show that for every workplace distraction it can take an average of 25 minutes to return to normal production levels. That means one distraction per day consumes 5.2% of an 8-hour work day. This translates into real dollars for employers.

Check out our page on how to calculate the Return-On-Investment (ROI) for a sound masking system for offices to see a workup.

Protect Speech Privacy

Another benefit, as referenced above, is speech privacy. Employees are more relaxed, expressive and collaborative when they operate in office spaces where they feel safe. Speech privacy provides a level of safety as it relates to ideas. Having an office sound masking system means that employees aren’t wasting time looking for conference or huddle rooms or leaving the building altogether to go to a coffee shop for some privacy.

Enhance Office Comfort

Comfort is a valuable benefit to sound masking for offices that cannot be overlooked. A comfortable sound, which, in essence, is the tangible that is purchased for the space, is critical to a successful system. Without getting too technical, white noise, which tracks like white light, is necessary because it has certain frequencies that are required to cover certain human speech frequencies. The trouble with white noise is that it sounds awful. I mean really, really awful. Therefore, in order to achieve a comfortable sound in a successful sound masking system for the office, you would want a system that covers a full broadband spectrum of sound. This includes pink noise, which tracks like pink light. Think about going to the beach or walking out of an office into the sunlight. You feel refreshed. You feel comfortable. This is because sunlight is a full broadband spectrum of light. A comfortable sound masking system delivers that full spectrum. It introduces pink noise because there are deep, bass tones that make it less harsh and scratchy than just white noise.

Improve Overall Wellbeing

Comfort cannot be emphasized enough as employees return to the office. In the same regards, comfort can be thought of in the same vein as wellness. Employees will want to feel safe and comfortable. Mental illness is a real concern and creating an environment that feels busy, and feels safe from being overheard, is already important to employees. Masking sound properly in offices can support this wellness effort.