Sound Masking: The Hidden Productivity Booster

A busy office where sound masking system would be highly beneficial. Learn more about sound masking at CenturyAV.com.

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Have you ever worked in an open office concept and couldn’t concentrate due to office noise? You wouldn’t be the first one to feel this way. Office noise, from the sound of keyboards to office chatter to phone interruptions, can all cause distractions. Distractions can dramatically affect your productivity, so finding the right solution is crucial. 

The solution to office noise is sound masking. Sound masking fights noise with noise to give you the tranquility you need to get the job done.

In this article, we’ll discuss what sound masking is, how to use it at work, why it’s beneficial, and how you can get set up with the proper sound masking system and not waste precious resources on improper setups. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about sound masking to empower you to make informed decisions about your workspaces. Let’s get started.

Understanding Sound Masking

A busy open-concept office where sound masking has shown to be effective at boosting productivity. Learn more about sound masking solutions for your office at CenturyAV.com.

What is Sound Masking?

Sound masking refers to the process of adding subtle, ambient background noise to an environment, such as a workplace, to reduce the perceptibility of unwanted or distracting sounds. By introducing a specially designed audio landscape, often resembling airflow, sound masking technology makes speech and other noises less intelligible, thereby enhancing privacy and improving concentration.

Employers implement sound masking systems to create a more acoustically comfortable workspace, encouraging productivity and safeguarding confidential conversations. This technique is particularly effective in open-plan offices, where it helps to minimize distractions and facilitate a more focused and efficient working environment.

The Science Behind Sound Masking Summarized

How does sound masking work? Sound masking adds a carefully engineered humming noise to the environment. So, the name is actually a bit deceiving unless you dig deeper – deeper into the mind, that is. 

There is an interesting phenomenon known as the ‘cocktail party effect’(1). The effect happens because of the brain’s ability to split a single stream of audio out of a clatter of noise. Some say it’s the effect that enables you to hear your name spoken amongst many other conversations in a room – because your brain wiring picks up your name. Similarly, if you were at a party, you could focus on a single conversation with a person despite background noise.

Sound masking technology takes the frequencies that often trigger our attention, like talking, and gives a corresponding sound to wash out the distractive noise. However, it doesn’t remove it; it merely adds a layer of noise to it, so your brain considers it more like background noise, more straightforward to ignore so you can focus on what you’re doing.

The Role of Sound Masking in Boosting Productivity

A team sits in an open office reviewing a chart showing boosted productivity. Sound masking has shown to be an effective productivity booster in noisy work environments. Learn more at CenturyAV.com.

An article in the Canadian Globe and Mail in 2019 summed up several studies or sources regarding the productivity of those in noisy environments. (2) Several studies pointed out that both upbeat music prior to working has a positive effect on work motivation. Further studies concluded that white noise used properly in open-office environments tends to lead to workers feeling more productive and less distracted by their environments.

Countless studies talk about music being a positive influence. However, the type of music can irritate some while others enjoy it. This apparent discrepancy is why playing music at work, unless all agree on the genre, has negative impacts. (3) The solution? White noise sound masking might just be the winner.

Combating Workplace Distractions

We mentioned workplace noise and distractions, which are a real challenge for many in open office and cubicle/open office scenarios. In fact, 84.4% of people are distracted at work. (3) Here are some other common workplace distractions that made the list:

  • email (26%)
  • phone calls/texts (55%)
  • co-workers (27%)
  • the Internet (41%)

These numbers above are from an article by Jannik Lindner on Gitnux.org.(4) These numbers reveal something about people: we are distracted by the sound of other’s voices. Both phone calls and co-workers involve other people speaking, and thus, it stands to reason that the human voice and its expected frequencies can act as a distraction if you’re trying to work.

Enhancing Privacy and Security

If you work or have worked in an open-concept office environment, then you are no stranger to eavesdropping and overheard conversations. There are a number of hidden costs to overheard conversations at work, as pointed out by the Fortune Group in a LinkedIn post in October of 2023:

  • Eroded Trust
  • Low Morale
  • Productivity Loss
  • Damaged Reputations
  • Legal Consequences

Due to the actual cost of open-concept environments, implementing a sound masking system is probably your best defense against the above-mentioned potential downsides to overheard conversations in the workplace.

Sound Masking Applications in the Modern Workplace

An image of an open-concept modern workplace. Learn how sound masking could help your office at CenturyAV.com.

Sound masking is a technology used in many applications. However, the most common are in office environments. There are two places in workplaces where sound masking is found to be highly effective:

  • In open-office layout workspaces
  • In confidential meeting spaces

Sound masking helps develop better working conditions where typical distractions become less irritating, providing a better atmosphere for focus-requiring tasks. In one study on how a sound masking system worked in an open office environment, respondents to the study noted some interesting points during the use of the system. These particular points participants felt were less annoying of a distraction during system use:

  • Overall, the general noise was less annoying.
  • Intelligible background conversations
  • Ringing phones
  • Passing office workers’ noises

None of the above points mentioned were significant in terms of their difference before the use of the sound masking system, but they were different nonetheless. (6)

Customer-Facing Environments

Any business area where private conversations take place can benefit from sound masking. However, some work environments stand out as being prime locations to use sound masking technology:

  • Privacy in waiting areas: Places like medical waiting rooms or consultation areas in banks can benefit from sound masking. The background noise helps mask conversations, ensuring greater privacy for individuals discussing potentially sensitive information.
  • Reduced anxiety in healthcare settings: Research suggests that sound masking can create a more calming atmosphere in hospitals and healthcare environments. The consistent background noise can make these spaces feel less sterile, potentially reducing anxiety for patients and visitors.
  • Improved focus in libraries: While libraries are intended to be quiet, some background sound masking can help reduce the impact of sudden or distracting noises (e.g., someone dropping a book or a chair scraping). It allows for a more consistent environment for concentration.
  • Enhanced dining experiences: Some restaurants use sound masking strategically to create a more intimate atmosphere. By subtly reducing noise levels, diners can have conversations more easily without feeling like nearby tables are overhearing them.

Challenges in Implementing Sound Masking

Three primary challenges can stand in the way of implementing sound masking systems. We’ve found that our clients have sometimes struggled with these challenges, so we felt it prudent to mention them below.

Designing the Right System

Designing the right sound masking system is crucial to the system’s success. The types and frequencies of noises need observation and documentation. Next, the design of the sound masking is created, and speakers are strategically installed in prime locations for maximum effect. All of this research, design, installation, and implementation of sound masking systems can be a challenge for many organizations. At Century AV, we know all about designing the right sound masking system, so if your challenge is system design, try us first.

Choosing the Right Equipment

Sound masking systems aren’t like typical public address systems. The speakers are critical for ensuring the proper use of sound masking frequencies for their full potential. Furthermore, sound masking systems are typically run constantly during office or location hours of operation. Due to the extended use times, sound masking speakers have to be able to handle the constant work and vibrations that said work creates.

If choosing the right equipment is a challenge, contact one of our sound masking specialists here at Century AV. We’re the sound masking professionals located right here in Mississauga, Ontario.

Selecting a Service Provider

Speaking of service provision, new clients can get overwhelmed by the information on the Internet about sound masking, as well as those who supply a design/installation/service. So, we’ll make it easy for you: try us first. When you choose to work with Century AV, you are picking a reliable partner for all your audio-visual needs. From sound masking to setting up teleconference and boardrooms, we’ve got you covered.

Making Sound Decisions on Sound Masking with Century AV

Two people shake hands; a gesture of mutual respect and understanding - much like the experience you would have working with Century Audio Visual on your next AV project.

Why Choose Century AV for Your Sound Masking Needs

Century AV has a simple philosophy that has worked for decades: Provide intelligent solutions for AV system design, installation, and support. Simple, right? Better service, better knowledge, better long-term support. Simple.

Next Steps with Century AV

To talk to one of our sound masking experts, contact us today. It’s really that easy.

Sound Masking: The Silent Guardian of Productivity

In conclusion, sound masking emerges as a silent yet powerful ally in the quest for enhanced productivity and concentration in modern workplaces. By harnessing the subtle science of background noise, sound masking systems create an environment where distractions get minimized, privacy is enhanced, and focus is optimized.

Throughout this article, we’ve explored the intricacies of sound masking, its underlying principles, and its applications across various industries. From open-plan offices to customer-facing environments, the benefits of sound masking are clear: improved productivity, reduced distractions, and heightened privacy.

As you reflect on the information presented here, consider the potential impact that sound masking could have on your workspace. Whether you’re struggling with office noise, seeking to enhance confidentiality, or simply aiming to create a more conducive environment for concentration, sound masking offers a tailored solution.

At Century AV, we understand the importance of designing the right sound masking system, selecting the appropriate equipment, and partnering with a reliable service provider. Our team stands ready to assist you in implementing sound masking solutions that meet your unique needs and empower your workforce.

Don’t let office noise hinder your productivity any longer. Take the next step towards a quieter, more focused work environment by contacting Century AV today. Together, we can unlock the full potential of sound masking as the silent guardian of productivity in your business.

Thank you for joining us on this journey through the world of sound masking. Here’s to a future where distractions fade into the background and productivity soars to new heights.

Article Sources

  1. Wikipedia Contributors. 2024. “Cocktail Party Effect.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. February 13, 2024. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocktail_party_effect.
  2. Peesker, Saira; 2019. “Sounds like Hard Work: How the Right Noise Can Help You Focus and Be More Creative.” The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail. October 9, 2019. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/article-sounds-like-hard-work-how-the-right-noise-can-help-you-focus-and-be/.
  3. Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas; “Can Music Make You More Productive?” 2022. Harvard Business Review. September 13, 2022. https://hbr.org/2022/09/can-music-make-you-more-productive.
  4. “Workplace Distractions Statistics [Fresh Research] • Gitnux.” 2023. GITNUX. December 8, 2023. https://gitnux.org/workplace-distractions-statistics/#:~:text=On%20average%2C%2084.4%25%20of%20people,making%20an%20impact%20at%20work..
  5. “Eavesdropping and Gossip in the Workplace: Hidden Costs and Remedies,” The Fortune Group, Oct.3, 2023. Linkedin.com. 2024. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/eavesdropping-gossip-workplace-hidden-costs-remedies/.
  6. Lenne, Lucas, Patrick Chevret, and Julien Marchand. 2020. “Long-Term Effects of the Use of a Sound Masking System in Open-Plan Offices: A Field Study.” Applied Acoustics 158 (January): 107049–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apacoust.2019.107049.‌

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