Why Most Workplaces Need Sound Masking
The demand for open office environments isn't going away. A report by The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) shows that more than 80 percent of respondents use open-plan systems in their space planning. In addition, many businesses are now allotting less space to employees within open plans, upping the number of people within a room in order to cut overhead. And the trend toward a "team" environment has brought upper management and other executives out of their once private offices and into the mix.
Add speaker phones, voicemail and other noisy technology, and the office environment can easily become distracting. With statistics showing that productivity levels in a non-distracting space will rise anywhere from 3 to 20 percent, open-office acoustics are an increasingly critical design issue for architects. Read more about the payoff of speech privacy — both financial and human — here. This isn't to say that the role of the design or facility professional is to create an office that is dead quiet. In very quiet environments, employees, clients and/or customers often won't speak in a normal tone of voice and instead will lower their voices to near-whispers in order not to distract other employees and to avoid being overheard. And the smallest of sounds, from a tapping pen to a clicking keyboard, can easily shatter the fragile concentration of coworkers.
As office walls come down and more employees are packed together into the workplace, privacy is affected as well. And industry research indicates that workplaces will continue to become noisier, affecting employee productivity, morale and retention.
Architects are increasingly turning to sound masking to override sounds that can't be absorbed or blocked by design elements such as carpeting, acoustical wall panels, ceiling panels or partitions. At the other end of the spectrum, sound masking in quiet environments allows employees to speak at normal conversational levels while maintaining speech privacy.
Beyond 'White Noise'
Today's sound masking has gone well beyond simple white noise machines. Diffracted sound can be masked with electronically produced sound that's evenly distributed through a space by speakers placed above the ceiling.
Sound masking provides a constant, fixed level of unobtrusive background sound that is set to cover speech level and soften other office noises, which then do not appear as distractions to the human ear. To be effective, the masking level should be 3 to 5 decibels louder than incoming speech from adjacent work stations. In an open plan office, the STC (Sound Transmission Class) and NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) must be balanced to achieve good speech privacy, while the background sound levels are comfortable and uniformly maintained.
Because sound masking is complementary to the speech spectrum and effectively covers speech levels, it reduces the intelligibility of conversations, which makes conversations less distracting to those working nearby.
Architects and other design and facility professionals should consider specifying sound masking units that have a step attenuator, a rotating volume control for precise sound-level adjustment volume control and a rotating volume control for paging/music. Units should be able to produce up to 86 dBA to meet the requirements for all ceiling treatments, and have adjustable sound spectrum shaping controls in order to meet the varying spectral requirements of drywall ceilings, various types of ceiling panels, air return grills and openings around lighting fixtures.
The sound-generating units must also generate random sequence sounds and not produce a noticeable repetitive pattern or sequence. While effective sound masking systems have traditionally utilized loudspeakers strategically placed above the office ceiling to produce uniform sound masking throughout the workspace, one of the newest and most popular options for architects are sound masking systems that work in tandem with acoustical ceiling panels. These ceiling sound masking systems are superior to other types of centralized or flat-surface speakers alone, giving the architect more options and control over ceiling design and sound masking systems. These systems can be ordered from the acoustic ceiling panel manufacturer and/or the sound masking company.
Lencore's Sound Masking Systems create a harmonious atmosphere in which to work that increases people's ability to concentrate, restores speech privacy and allows for greater employee productivity and efficiency.