April 22, 2017 | Matthew Kosel
Corporate Sound Masking is an audiovisual method that incorporates a virtually undetectable, precisely calibrated noise system into open workspaces to render speech of other workers unintelligible. The effects of this practice lead to greater ROI. For businesses with employees who need to focus despite distraction in the workplace, sound masking may be an audiovisual solution worth exploring.
How Does Sound Masking Work?
Sound masking fills in the ambient background sound to decrease the radius of distraction, and increase speech privacy. Just like a sound machine used for sleep, sound masking in the corporate context employs a broad spectrum sound that humans are very good at ignoring. Having that elevated noise floor, and in some cases, elevated background music, makes other sounds less intelligible, so they do not become distracting. Panels, acoustical ceilings and sound masking all contribute to the resulting speech privacy level, as measured by the privacy index.
How to Incorporate Sound Masking Into a New Office
Building or updating an office space can be a huge and daunting project. Whenever possible, it is best to incorporate sound masking from the design and build phase. That way, employees will walk into an optimized environment from day one, and productivity is baked into the original design of the workspace. Plus, addressing space acoustics from the outset can make sound masking work even better. Technology currently exists to model a corporate space, taking into account the architectural elements, floor plan, even furniture and fabric choices, to determine the effectiveness of a sound masking system. Project planning should always allow enough time for this crucial step.
How to Incorporate Sound Masking Into an Existing Office
If you’re already in a space, installation of sound masking technology should take place when workers are not there. This not only limits disruptions in workflow, but also helps the technology of sound masking to work. When retrofitting an existing office with corporate sound masking, it is important to do the installation work outside of business hours, and cover up the evidence of work as it progresses, because the introduction of the sound masking system changes the acoustical environment in the space. This means after sound masking is installed, the room sounds different to the people who work in it.
When an individual working in a known acoustic space comes in one day and the room sounds significantly different, they do notice it. Because of that change, they’ll note something is off and they’ll want to know why. Your audiovisual service provider needs to make the changes while employees are unaware, so they don’t spend time trying to figure out what was done.
Once the system is installed, a best practice is to ramp up the use of ambient sound, instead of implementing it at full force right away, so there’s not an abrupt change. Studies have shown that the effectiveness of a sound masking system is much greater when employees are unaware.
Measuring the Effects of Corporate Sound Masking
Corporate sound masking has measurable effects on productivity. For example, the Data Management Association found that open offices without sound masking systems experience a 40 percent loss in productivity and 27 percent more errors in work.
Here is an example* of how to calculate the ROI of a sound masking system:
- Annual salary of an employee: $40,000
- Area occupied by the employee: 100 sq. ft.
- Cost of masking per employee: 100 sq. ft. x $3.00 = $300
- Salary recovered in productivity: 3% of employee’s time x $40,000 = $1,200
- Return on investment: $1,200 in productivity gains vs. $300 cost of masking = +$900
- Across an entire team or company: 100 employees x $900 = $90,000
*Numbers are based on averages and will vary depending on the particulars of the project.