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5 Critical Office Speech Privacy Considerations

Feb 1 2016 / by base4


Your office probably has a problem. Most offices do. Over the past decade, there has been a huge pendulum shift towards collaborative open office floorplans, led by the millennial movement and the huge cost advantages of flex workspace. Today’s offices simply have far fewer walls.

Modern Aesthetics

To add insult to injury, many of the remaining vertical surfaces tend to be extremely reflective. This is great for obtaining a sleek and modern look, but it’s awful for acoustics. Just like a noisy restaurant where you can’t hear your conversation, offices can be a distracting place.

Costs of Distraction

That distraction costs money. About $650 billion annually, according to Workplace Options, a provider of work-life services for employees. While acoustics distractions don’t account for all that amount, they are the simplest to address.

Typical Resolutions

Handled during the design process, the typical remedy for this problem is through acoustical design. In a typical building, an acoustician specifies wall construction in such a way to prevent transmission of sound between spaces in a building. For example, if I have a gym with pumping music right next to a movie theatre that needs to get pretty quiet, special wall and ceiling construction will be required. In the case of the open office space, we don’t have walls. What do we do? We need magic.

Enter Sound Masking

In this case, magic comes in the form of a properly designed sound masking system. Sound masking systems have been used for years, originating in industries where conversation privacy is an absolute requirement. In the case of modern offices, it’s often the magic pill to make that pretty and aesthetic space productive, once again.

How it Works

Speakers are installed above the ceiling firing upwards. This disperses the sound evenly throughout the space. This is an important design consideration. In a properly functioning sound masking system, you will never know that it’s there. The average person will simply find the space much more comfortable and less distracting, because the annoying and persistent conversations of their neighbors are no longer audible.

Older systems used to use white noise, which sounded like a hiss. Today’s systems have come a long way and use an equalization curve that is created uniquely for its purpose. Properly installed, the typical person in the office space never realizes that anything has changed in the space and they are not aware of the presence of the noise masking system. They just know that the distractions have ceased.

Benefits of Noise Masking Systems


There are studies that make huge claims in terms of productivity gains for sound masking systems. Productivity is a difficult quantity to measure, in my opinion, so I’ll refrain from mentioning those numbers. If you’re reading this, it probably means you have a problem. Whatever productivity you are losing through office noise distractions can be eliminated by a properly designed sound masking system.


Aside from limiting distractions, sound masking allows speech privacy in the office. Private conversations stay that way.

Data Entry Errors

According to The Data Entry Management Association, data entry errors can go up by as much as 38% because of office noise and distractions. I mention this statistic, because data entry would seem to be a good and reliable quantitative productivity measure.

Employee Satisfaction

Bustling spaces with lots of distractions are stressful. So much so that major airports are installing ambient environmental sound systems to lower traveler stress. Sound ridiculous? We thought so too, until we saw the studies on blood pressure and cardio vascular disease (links at bottom of article). Organizations are paying attention to the economic incentives of a healthy workforce, and adding more daylight, for example. These new studies show that we should be paying just as much attention to our acoustic environment.


The open office trend is not going away. We’re not likely to start laying down heavy carpet to help quiet the ambient sound in the space. But we still have a problem that we need to solve to get the levels of productivity that we need to maintain in our organizations. Sound masking systems are the ideal solution to this problem.

We design sound masking systems for office speech privacy, provide acoustical consulting, and design audio, video, and technology for the workplace. Good results start with good design, so call us today to start improving your workplace.







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  • Brad Gallagher

    Written by base4

    Brad Gallagher leads the Base4 Technology team. Brad is an evangelist for creating architecture and technology in harmony, based on specific project goals. He is a strong advocate for eliminating marketing hype and explaining technology in a way that people can clearly understand. For more insight, you should follow me on twitter.

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