Tag Archives: open office

Corporate Sound Masking

Corporate Sound Masking Means Greater ROI

Corporate Sound Masking is an audiovisual method that incorporates a virtually undetectable, precisely calibrated noise system into open workspaces to render speech of other workers unintelligible. The effects of this practice lead to greater ROI. For businesses with employees who need to focus despite distraction in the workplace, sound masking may be an audiovisual solution worth exploring.

How Does Sound Masking Work?

Sound masking fills in the ambient background sound to decrease the radius of distraction, and increase speech privacy. Just like a sound machine used for sleep, sound masking in the corporate context employs a broad spectrum sound that humans are very good at ignoring. Having that elevated noise floor, and in some cases, elevated background music, makes other sounds less intelligible, so they do not become distracting. Panels, acoustical ceilings and sound masking all contribute to the resulting speech privacy level, as measured by the privacy index.

How to Incorporate Sound Masking Into a New Office

Building or updating an office space can be a huge and daunting project. Whenever possible, it is best to incorporate sound masking from the design and build phase. That way, employees will walk into an optimized environment from day one, and productivity is baked into the original design of the workspace. Plus, addressing space acoustics from the outset can make sound masking work even better. Technology currently exists to model a corporate space, taking into account the architectural elements, floor plan, even furniture and fabric choices, to determine the effectiveness of a sound masking system. Project planning should always allow enough time for this crucial step.

How to Incorporate Sound Masking Into an Existing Office

If you’re already in a space, installation of sound masking technology should take place when workers are not there. This not only limits disruptions in workflow, but also helps the technology of sound masking to work. When retrofitting an existing office with corporate sound masking, it is important to do the installation work outside of business hours, and cover up the evidence of work as it progresses, because the introduction of the sound masking system changes the acoustical environment in the space. This means after sound masking is installed, the room sounds different to the people who work in it.

When an individual working in a known acoustic space comes in one day and the room sounds significantly different, they do notice it. Because of that change, they’ll note something is off and they’ll want to know why. Your audiovisual service provider needs to make the changes while employees are unaware, so they don’t spend time trying to figure out what was done.

Once the system is installed, a best practice is to ramp up the use of ambient sound, instead of implementing it at full force right away, so there’s not an abrupt change. Studies have shown that the effectiveness of a sound masking system is much greater when employees are unaware.

Measuring the Effects of Corporate Sound Masking

Corporate sound masking has measurable effects on productivity. For example, the Data Management Association found that open offices without sound masking systems experience a 40 percent loss in productivity and 27 percent more errors in work.

Here is an example* of how to calculate the ROI of a sound masking system:

  • Annual salary of an employee: $40,000
  • Area occupied by the employee: 100 sq. ft.
  • Cost of masking per employee: 100 sq. ft. x $3.00 = $300
  • Salary recovered in productivity: 3% of employee’s time x $40,000 = $1,200
  • Return on investment: $1,200 in productivity gains vs. $300 cost of masking = +$900
  • Across an entire team or company: 100 employees x $900 = $90,000

*Numbers are based on averages and will vary depending on the particulars of the project.

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Sound Masking

Fixing the Open Office Floor Plan


Not long ago, open office floor plans were the biggest trend in office spaces. Businesses believed they could spend less money creating the space, and also foster collaboration and improve employee morale at the same time. However, the plan seems to have backfired. Open floor plans make no allowance for personal space, or the need for a quiet place to work. Instead of increasing productivity and satisfaction, employees complain of constant distractions and irritation.

Problems with the Open Floor

Specific problems vary from office to office—not all employees working in open office plans experience as many issues with noise or problems with visual distractions. However, there are common problems associated with most open floor offices:

  • Productivity decreases. This happens for numerous reasons, but is generally due to the large number of distractions that occur when many people work in shared spaces.
  • Employee happiness falls. Most people like to be able to work in peace, and open offices deny them that ability.
  • Distractions abound. Distractions destroy motivation, interrupt production, and generally annoy employees.
  • Employees are sick more. Open offices not only increase stress but are also a perfect platform for spreading illnesses.
  • They foster mistrust. Employees sometimes believe open floor plans mean their managers don’t trust them and want to be able to look over their shoulders.
  • Competitions arise. In any open office plan, there are always a few private offices for the higher-ups. Employees will sometimes fight over who gets a newly available private office.
  • They end up costing more. Yes, open floor offices cost less to build. However, because they lower employee productivity so steeply, they quickly result in a net loss.

Restoring Order and Productivity

Companies can do several things to increase productivity and employee morale. These include:

  • Flexible work schedules. Companies that allow their employees to telecommute can reduce the number of people working in an open office space, leading to fewer distractions and an increase in productivity. Flexible work schedules also raise employee morale.
  • Workplace culture. Feeling like part of a larger whole improves employee satisfaction and motivation. Open floor offices can allow for a strong company culture to develop, and organizations need to encourage this.
  • Noise-canceling headphones go a long way toward eliminating noisy distractions that discourage workers.
  • Movable furniture and private spaces. An open floor plan is all about allowing people to collaborate. Movable furniture enables employees to work together as a group, and then separate for individual work. This can help remove distractions and still foster collaboration.
  • Hybrid floor plans. Similar to having an open floor plan with mobile furniture, a hybrid floor plan creates spaces for groups and more private areas for individuals.
  • Alternatives to sitting. Sitting for too many hours a day is unhealthy. Moving around promotes blood flow to the brain, increases thinking capabilities as well as improves mood. Businesses can include seating alternatives such as yoga mats, treadmills, and standing workstations as part of an open office floor plan.
  • Free seating. If a company wants to promote working relationships and collaboration with an open office, they might want to avoid specific seating arrangements. Allow people to discover which colleagues they work best with and productivity will increase.

Open office floor plans have tremendous potential, but managers and business leaders must carefully assess what kind of office plan suits the work done in the office and the company culture as a whole. Done well, an open office can strike a fine balance between flexibility and productivity.