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sound of silence

Sound masking differs from white noise and helps in busy workplaces, says Penelope Harrell.

Sound wave
© iStock

05 August 2019 | Penelope Harrell

Noise has negative effects on an employee’s well-being and stress levels. In our ‘Noise and Wellbeing at Work’ survey, we found that 54 per cent of UK office workers reported that noise is a problems at work, with 58 per cent saying that noise has a high impact on their stress levels.

Sound masking provides a solution to the problem of workplace noise. 

What is sound masking?

Sound masking is ambient background noise engineered to match the frequency of the human voice for greater speech privacy. 

It makes a building seem quieter by raising the ambient noise level in an office environment. 

Sound masking helps to bolster acoustical privacy and reduce distracting noises, which in turn helps to improve the overall office comfort. 

How sound masking works 

Sound masking adds subtle background noise to the work environment, which helps to mask any distracting sounds and to improve speech privacy. 

Adding noise to a space may sound counter-intuitive, but sound masking solutions reduce the intelligibility of human speech. When you can’t understand what someone is saying, it becomes less distracting and you probably don’t notice him or her at all.

How it differs from white noise

Sound masking is a more sophisticated solution to white noise. White noise is irritating when it is amplified, sounding similar to loud AM radio static. White noise can be localised – you can tell where the noise is coming from – which is distracting. 

The beauty of sound masking is that it creates a completely immersive environment and the speakers are strategically placed, using a 360-degree sound dispersion. This means you cannot pinpoint where the noise is coming from, so it provides an unobtrusive background noise. 

White noise projects all frequencies at once with equal intensities, making it a loud obtrusive noise. In contrast, sound masking is designed to match the same frequency as the human voice; this means conversations are masked, providing greater speech privacy and overall office comfort. 

Benefits of sound masking

Sound masking creates a harmonious natural sound that blends into the work environment, allowing for fewer disturbances. You also have the ability to play soundscapes through the sound masking, to create a breakout area. 

What to consider before implementing sound masking 

Sound masking has positive effects in almost every industry. When considering sound masking for the workplace, managers should think about which areas need additional speech privacy and the areas most affected by distraction. 

There are different sound masking solutions available that can be integrated into almost any architectural layout. It is also worth noting that an environment can be divided into zones, so each zone can have its own level of privacy, even in an open-plan office.

For sound masking to be effective, a thorough site survey must be conducted beforehand to make sure that the solution fitted is bespoke to the workplace. 

There are no continual maintenance requirements for sound masking solutions; once commissioned, they will provide many years of service without any more costs. The solutions are easily expandable to additional areas for any future requirements.

Installations can be completed out of hours with minimal disruption to the workplace and do need to be incorporated into the IT network in order to function. 

Penelope Harrell is marketing lead at Remark Group