Keep employees focused by minimizing noise with sound masking

Offices are continually evolving their designs and layouts to create a better work environment.  With an eye on goals like increasing collaboration, companies are increasingly using layouts that feature either open environments or short cubicle walls.  These types of setups have shown to improve employee effectiveness and cohesiveness in many areas of their work.  However, there are some major issues created with this type of workspace.

Perhaps the single biggest challenge with an open layout is the lack of speech privacy for employees.  While this configuration encourages more communication, it also removes privacy and increases possible distractions.  In a study done at the University of California Berkley, more than 25,000 employees at more than 2,000 businesses were analyzed to determine what environmental issues were causing the most frustration.  Unsurprisingly, speech privacy was the top problem.  These results have been supported in numerous other studies as well.

Is speech privacy important in your workplace?

While it’s top on many studies, how does this actually affect employees?  A separate study done by the University of California Irvine showed that employees in open areas are interrupted every 11 minutes while working.  This study continues by showing that it can take an employee up to 23 minutes to re-engage with work at the level they were prior to the interruption.  These distractions can lead to enormous amounts of lost productivity from employees.

Another major issue with no speech privacy is that employees or coworkers can hear conversations they shouldn’t.  It’s easy to forget someone is there or not notice them while talking about private information.  In addition, many of the walls in newer buildings are thin and can be easily heard through.  This can be an even larger issue than not having the walls at all, as it can lead to a false sense of privacy.

With open layouts creating such a major problem, do offices need to go to the throwback of large cubicle walls and complete separation?  Not at all.  There are some great options to help minimize the impact of noise and distractions it presents.

How to improve speech privacy in an open floor plan office

The best option is called sound masking.  This is a process that adds low levels of sound to an area in order to make it quieter.  While this might seem counterintuitive, it actually does work.  The sound being used is specifically tuned to frequencies linked to human speech, which causes it to mask the talking that is occurring.  One great misconception of sound masking is that it simply uses white noise as a way to lessen or drown out other noises.  It actually takes specially tuned noise that limits the distance speech noise can be overheard.

The installation of sound masking systems vary greatly in how complex they are and should definitely be performed by a qualified expert.  Generally they consist of speakers that have wires run above the ceiling tiles into a specified room (usually the server room).  From there, they are checked and adjusted to make the noise level ideal.  If the sound levels are too low, the system won’t be effective cancelling the noise, and if it’s too loud, it will simply irritate and distract employees.

We have found these systems to be an amazing way to help improve productivity and privacy in the workplace by limiting distractions in an unobtrusive way.

Request a FREE Design