We recently came across an article entitled “12 Things You Can’t Do in an Open Plan Office”. Much like the title insinuates, the article listed a variety of points that you can’t do in an open plan office. For example, you can’t concentrate due to distractions, you can’t have a private conversation and you can’t have an animated conversation without annoying everyone. The article also boldly went onto say that open plan offices destroy productivity and reduce collaboration.
Now, we are aware that open plan offices can be distracting and noisy environments, but this article did play on our mind for a while as it’s not the open plan design that is destroying productivity and reducing collaboration but the acoustic design. Open plan layouts are generally designed without office acoustics in mind and this is what gives them such a bad reputation.
Noise and Wellbeing at Work Report, 2019
Acoustics and workplace wellbeing are part of our core values here at Remark Group which is why we created the ‘Noise and Wellbeing at Work’ report, 2019. We were curious as to how noise affected individuals in the workplace, particularly how it affects their productivity and wellbeing and it brought back some interesting results.
In the report we found that only 19% of UK office workers have their own private office, the majority of us are either in a shared office or open plan which is why designing an open plan office is more important than ever. The report then goes on to say that 64% have overhead a confidential or sensitive information being discussed in the workplace. We also found that telephone conversations and personal conversations were the most distracting noise in the workplace.
So, perhaps that article was right, we can’t have private conversations in an open plan office without being a distraction – or can we?
Sound Masking to Reduce Distractions
Sound masking has been around for quite some time now, but over the past few years the technology has developed to be used in an open plan environment. Sound masking increases the background noise level in an open plan environment to mask the sound. This sounds counter-intuitive but stick with us and we will explain how it works.
When you are in a noisy environment, like a shopping centre for example, you know that the people around you are talking but the overall background noise is so high you can’t make out what anyone is saying. When you can’t understand what someone is saying, their words are less distracting, and you probably don’t notice them at all – this is how sound masking works.
Sound masking injects a background noise into the environment that has been engineered to match the frequency of sounds found in the human voice. The sound is barely noticeable and has an imitation sound of rushing air over the top to blend into the environment. This then has the ability to mask excess sound and create a quieter, more comfortable working environment. Employees can still collaborate in their teams but are no longer being distracted by conversations on the other side of the office.
We recently carried out a sound masking project for a HR and payroll company where privacy and confidentiality were of upmost important. The layout is an open plan office with glass meeting rooms along the side of the room, sound masking was a necessity for them to have 100% privacy between the office space and meeting rooms.
We asked the employees whether they found the privacy levels had changed since the installation of sound masking; 80% reported the privacy levels had increased with the installation of sound masking. Sound masking also has the ability to be separated into zones. This means that each area of your open plan office can have its own level of sound masking and privacy. For example, if you have your accounts team right next to the sales team, there will definitely be a clash in personality and sound levels – sound masking can diffuse these distractions and noises and create a more harmonious environment.
Sound masking systems are also great if you have breakout areas and huddle zones within an open plan office. The system can be designed to increase the level of privacy round these areas, so the sound going out isn’t distracting to those trying to work around it and no one can overhear any private conversations coming out.As well as the traditional sound masking noise of rushing air, systems can also be designed to include soundscapes for certain breakout areas of the office. A popular soundscape is the natural environment, including waterfalls, bird song and the wind passing through trees.
As you can see there are numerous possibilities with sound masking and how it can reduce distractions within your workplace. Why not get in touch with our sound masking team today to discuss your sound masking needs and requirements, or if you would like to find out more about the solution first you can head over to our sound masking website page.