Noise at Work – How do you manage noise in an open plan office

Pubished on 22/05/2019

Sound masking is an effective tool for enhancing workplace privacy and reducing noise distraction, but how does it do it?

The scenario

The traditional solution of high acoustic screens and 12 feet between workers, used to provide a reasonable degree of speech privacy, especially when coupled with sound masking. But, today’s modern work generation demand an open, well-lit, collaborative environment, where office activity and voices become clearly audible and distracting. You expect to hear and collaborate with people within your immediate vicinity, but not necessarily those who are 20 feet away!

High density, open plan offices with low-level furniture systems and the desire for instant collaboration, can implement sound masking to reduce distractions from background noise and loud conversations.

How does sound masking work?

Sound masking reduces your “exposure” to the immediate area and reduces distractions and disturbances from other areas in the office. As the name suggests, sound masking “masks” or covers-up other sounds. Noises at lower or equal levels are fully or partially covered-up (or masked), making these sounds inaudible or only partially audible. Since masking hides some sound, the remaining voices and background noises become less distracting and in some cases are covered up enough to provide a good degree of conversation privacy. The presence of a moderate background sound level, provided by sound masking, also reduces the tendency to listen out for other sounds.

In an open office environment without sound masking, the main complaints are “it’s too noisy” and “it’s too quiet”. It turns out these are exactly the same complaint. Without masking, general office activity and voices seem too “loud”, while at the same time, without sound masking, it was too “quiet”, and so workplace activities and voices are easily heard.

Why implement a sound masking system?

Sound masking helps reduce disturbances and distractions, improving work productivity. Once sound masking is added to the environment, complaints regarding distractions and disturbances are dramatically reduced.

For enclosed offices and conference rooms, speech privacy can be enhanced, and money can be saved in construction when implementing a sound masking system. Privacy is achieved when the transmitted voice is almost impossible to understand. To achieve this, the transmitted voice must ideally be below the background sound within the listening space. When the background sound is very low, you can hear a “pin drop” in the adjacent space. When sound masking is properly implemented, the background sound is slightly elevated and specifically tuned to help cover up or mask transmitted voices.

You can expect this open office trend to continue, and an increasing number of companies will consider the acoustics of the space to help improve office comfort.

If you think sound masking would be a solution for your business, it’s vital that it is installed correctly. Elite Acoustics offer a full turnkey solution for all Sound Masking needs, covering initial site survey / on-site demonstration, detailed customer designs, including full wiring diagrams, installation, commissioning and ongoing sales, maintenance and technical support.

To find out more about how we can help with sound masking in your commercial environment, please get in touch.