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What is Sound Masking? (Definition, Examples & Benefits for 2024)

What is Sound Masking? (Definition, Examples & Benefits)

Picture this: it's Monday morning. You come into work early to tackle your to-do list. You grab a cup of coffee, sit down at your desk and start typing. You make a lot of progress - until you hear the dreaded sound of your coworkers loudly discussing what they did over the weekend. 

From air conditioning and obnoxious ringtones to other people's voices, all these interruptions create a workplace full of distractions. Fortunately, sound masking can help

But what exactly is sound masking and how does it work? How does it promote office privacy and a better workplace culture? Can it help you achieve an agile workplace and attract new talent?

Here at Egyptian Workspace Partners, we believe sound masking is just as important as any other workplace technology. In this article, we'll explain what sound masking is, how it works and its benefits. Then, we'll work together to help you find the best sound masking solution for your business. 

What is Sound Masking? 

Sound masking is an ambient background noise engineered to match the frequency of human speech. Similar to the sound of airflow, sound masking reduces noisy distractions, protects speech privacy and helps people feel more comfortable at work.

How Does Sound Masking Work?

What is sound masking?

It may sound counterintuitive but adding sound to a space reduces the intelligibility of human speech. When you can't understand what someone is saying, you're less likely to be distracted. 

Sound masking doesn't cancel sound or eliminate all speech in an environment. Instead, it reduces how far away conversations can be heard and understood by others.

For example, let's say you're washing dishes and talking to someone on the other end of the kitchen. When the water isn't running, you can hear the other person perfectly. If you turn the water on, the noise of the running water "masks" the sound of their voice. 

Sound masking mimics this phenomenon on a more sophisticated level. By adding ambient sound (like airflow or water flowing) to an area, you can help mask other noises and make them less distracting. 

How is Sound Masking Deployed?

What is sound masking?

Sound masking is emitted through small speakers installed in or above the ceiling. The speakers are laid out in a grid format and connect via cables to control equipment. There are two main types of sound masking: direct and indirect

What is Direct Sound Masking?

Direct sound masking

Direct sound masking requires speakers that are installed in the ceiling tiles and point directly toward the office space. This method creates a comfortable ambient sound without extensive installation and tuning. 

What is Indirect Sound Masking?

Indirect sound masking

With indirect sound masking, speakers are installed above the ceiling tiles (or under a raised access floor). These speakers point away from the office and toward the ceiling deck, so the sound masking hits it and reflects back into the workspace below. 

How is Sound Masking Different Than White Noise? 

Sound masking is often confused with white noise, even though their sound waves very significantly. White noise covers up human speech, but it can be annoying because it sounds like loud AM radio static.

Unlike white noise, sound masking is engineered to sound comfortable (or even pleasant) to the human ear. When implemented properly, sound masking fades into the background while making speech more difficult to hear and understand. 

The 4 Best Benefits of Sound Masking for Your Business

1. Sound Masking Protects Speech Privacy

In a world where operation costs are on the rise, businesses are maximizing their existing office real estate and opting for open office layouts. Open floor plans may be great for workplace collaboration, but they offer almost no privacy. 

Most open workspaces offer smaller private offices, so there are fewer materials to block and absorb sound. This problem can create acoustical challenges that negatively impact speech privacy.

To put it simply, speech privacy is an unintended listener's ability to understand another person's conversation. These people overhear a lot of conversations they shouldn't be, affecting their ability to concentrate.

Sound masking systems generate a specially engineered frequency that masks human speech. Then, employees can speak more freely knowing their conversations won't be overheard by people across the room.

2. Sound Masking Boosts Productivity

What is sound masking?

On average, employees waste 21.5 minutes per day due to noisy distractions, affecting their productivity. Unfortunately, this lack of productivity can also cost you money and impact your business's ability to grow or be innovative.

For instance, let's say you employ 100 people and the average employee salary is $50,000 a year. Since 21.5 minutes daily equals roughly four percent of an eight-hour workday, that means your company is losing $200,000 a year in lost productivity. 

Sound masking fixes this issue by making conversations and other noisy distractions less audible. Whether your employees are learning new skills or being creative, they'll be less distracted, able to concentrate better and their productivity levels will rise significantly. 

3. Sound Masking Reinforces Confidentiality and Reduces Liability 

Many private conversations could become HR nightmares if overheard by the wrong people. Still, 53 percent of employees have overheard confidential company information at the office.

A lack of speech privacy can result in compliance and legal concerns when discussing sensitive client information. This is why speech privacy is mandated by the following legal and regulatory environments:

  • HIPAA mandates that all employers "take reasonable safeguards to protect the privacy of protected health information
  • The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (GLBA) requires financial institutions to protect their non-public financial information
  • LEED is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of green buildings, homes and neighborhoods
  • HCAHPS provides scores to hospitals based on a variety of criteria
  • FERPA mandates that all colleges and universities safeguard student information, including how information is collected and disseminated

By making speech less intelligible, sound masking reinforces confidentiality and ensures the safety of your guests and employees. It also helps protects patient information, confidential business plans, government secrets and more. 

4. Sound Masking Improves Employee Wellbeing

Even before the pandemic hit, people complained about noise in the workplace without realizing how harmful it was. According to Steelcase, noisy distractions are linked to health issues like hearing loss, tinnitus, hypertension, sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease

As your employees leave their home offices and return to work in a post-COVID world, it's the perfect time to take care of any neglected workplace acoustical issues that negatively impact your people's physical, emotional and cognitive wellbeing

Sound masking helps ensure a quiet, professional work environment where people can avoid noisy distractions that arouse the nervous system, cause blood pressure to rise and release stress hormones. 

Is Sound Masking the Best Fit for Your Business? 

If you've ever been interrupted by conversations between co-workers or ringing telephones, your business is a prime candidate for sound masking. Regardless of your specific role or industry, literally everyone can benefit from sound masking: 

  • Business owners can protect speech privacy and increase productivity by reducing noise distractions
  • Facility managers can help increase employee satisfaction and reduce operating costs
  • HR managers can follow HIPAA and GLBA speech privacy requirements
  • Healthcare administrators can increase HCAHPS scores and HIPAA compliance
  • Employees have a more comfortable work environment with fewer distractions 

The best sound masking system for you depends on a variety of factors, including your ceiling architecture, ceiling height, office layout and music or paging needs. Whether you have a small office or multiple locations, Egyptian's sound masking experts can help determine which system best fits your workplace's needs.


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