What is a Sound Masking System and Why Should You Have One?

April 17, 2019 | Blue Wave Communications

Workplace environments, whether in a corporate office, a hospital, a doctor’s office, or retail space, are packed with distractions that impede productivity and cost companies millions of dollars every year. In fact, according to a survey cited by Inc.com, “nearly 3 out of 4 workers (70 percent) admit they feel distracted when they’re on the job, with 16 percent asserting that they’re almost always distracted.”

Why are workers so distracted? The Inc. article highlights a very important factor, stating that “80 percent of those surveyed cited chatty coworkers and office noise as top distractions.” Many workplaces have embraced the open office concept with the intention for which is to foster more team spirit, communication, and collaboration. However, the open office design also limits privacy and removes physical barriers that absorb or block noise.

Hospitals are particularly prone to the problem of noise. According to research cited by RN.com, “excessive noise not only hindered the ability for patients to rest, but raised the risk for medical errors.”

How can hospitals, offices, and other facilities address the problem of noise? One of the better solutions is to use sound masking systems which can reduce the distractions caused by noise without the need to put up physical barriers.

What is Sound Masking and How Does It Work?

A sound masking system uses a series of digital sound generators to mask human speech in a discreet and almost undetectable way. It may seem counterintuitive for sound masking equipment to create more noise but the sound is similar to that of air coming from the air conditioning vent or water from a faucet, which are tuned to frequencies that match human speech.

The effect is that while two people talking face-to-face won’t notice much difference, others sitting farther away are less able to understand what is being said. The farther away one is from the conversation, the less intelligible it is, which significantly reduces the distractions caused by “chatty coworkers and office noise” cited as the leading causes of distraction in the Inc.com article.

This is somewhat similar to white noise generators of the past — which is why many people still mention “white noise” when discussing sound masking systems. However, there is a major difference between the two: A sound masking system almost imperceptibly disrupts noise from human speech making it less distracting while a white noise generator does just that — it adds more noise (noise that can be every bit as annoying and distracting to some people as the sound it is intended to drown out).

Why Should You Use Sound Masking Systems for Offices and Hospitals?

There are several key benefits for installing a sound masking system in an office and/or healthcare facility, including:

  • Increased Productivity. The primary benefit of using a sound masking system in a corporate office environment is that it helps minimize noise-based distractions. This, in turn, helps improve employee productivity which directly impacts the bottom line. In fact, according to the Inc. article, “When workplace distractions are reduced… 75% of employees are more productive.”
  • Maintaining an Open Office Design. Another benefit of using sound masking equipment rather than physical noise barriers is that it preserves the workplace’s open office design. This is also a key point for hospitals, which cannot install carpets or sound-absorbing materials on walls since the porous surfaces would be too difficult to consistently sanitize.
  • Increasing Patient, Customer, and Worker Satisfaction. Excessive noise impacts everyone’s happiness. As noted in the RN.com article, hospital noise is stated to be a possible factor in “stress-related burnout among healthcare workers.” The Inc. article notes that when distractions are reduced, “49% [of employees] are overall happier at work.” Additionally, research conducted by Cambridge Sound highlighted that, after installing a sound masking system at a healthcare facility, the “hospital’s post stay Press Ganey survey of 57 patients on the issue of ‘noise in and around the room’ showed a dramatic 33% increase in patient satisfaction.”
  • Improving Speech Privacy. Because sound masking systems limit how far casual conversations can travel and still be intelligible, they help provide extra speech privacy for workers, customers, and patients in the facility. In fact, healthcare environments can benefit greatly from the use of sound masking equipment because speech privacy is a key means of safeguarding overall patient privacy—a crucial aspect of HIPAA requirements.

Are you ready to increase productivity and reduce distractions in your facility? Reach out to Blue Wave and request a consultation today!

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