Sound Masking for Speech Privacy

Sound Masking for Speech Privacy in Open Offices, Heather CorbinBy Heather Corbin, IVCi    CREWMember

Open floor spaces are now the rage.  Their trendy, minimalist design appears artsy and chic, which is impressive to clients and visitors. Although these contemporary designs may be conducive to socializing and collaborating, they can make it insanely difficult to concentrate. In fact, headphones have now become the modern hardhat. Digital workers rely on them for insulation from the constant chatter they can’t escape.

Why is the Lack of Speech Privacy a Problem?
It’s not just noise that’s a nuisance. In fact, according to a study by the Center for the Built Environment at UC Berkeley, people are significantly more dissatisfied with sound privacy than noise level. Conversations are really distracting. That’s the biggest drawback of open floor spaces; there’s absolutely no speech privacy. This impacts productivity in the workplace, and if sensitive information is discovered, this can cause serious repercussions to a business. Furthermore, when employees are surrounded by constant conversation and lots of distractions, they often feel very anxious and dissatisfied.

“New commercial buildings are now LEED certified and energy efficient to achieve a small carbon footprint. This is great for the environment, but what about the employee?” says Tom Nyhus, VP of Engineering Emerging Technologies at IVCi. “With open floor plans, they are left sitting on top of one another. The noise is really stressful and negatively impacts their productivity.”

Healthcare environments are especially sensitive to risks if there’s no speech privacy. (Through the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) the federal government requires healthcare providers and pharmacies to provide privacy for patient health information.) Speech privacy is really significant anytime a physician discusses a case with the care team.  Privacy is also extremely important in any open areas such as reception rooms and pharmacy counters.

Resolving Speech Privacy Issues
Many companies don’t want to revert to traditional office designs, so they’re looking for innovative ways to add privacy and quiet areas. Sound masking is a great tool for resolving speech privacy issues inside the workplace. In healthcare environments, sound masking reduces speech intelligibility, eases a patient’s fear of being overheard and satisfies the mandated HIPAA requirements. It can also improve sleep, an important part of the healing process.

After over 30 years of acoustical engineering research, companies such as Atlas, Cambridge, and Lencore have developed sound masking solutions. They use a narrower frequency range from approximately 100 to 6,000 HZ and follow a specified, non-linear curve developed for both effectiveness and comfort- which is why sound masking can pleasantly provide speech privacy in today’s environments.

Sound masking is a low-cost option for creating speech privacy in open office spaces and healthcare environments. Not only will it muffle conversations to compensate for the lack of walls in modern floor plans, it will also keep patient care conversations confidential. Additionally, sound masking can also serve as a mass notification or phone paging system. In order to get a jump start on sound masking options within a workspace, we at IVCi recommend engaging a design engineer very early during the stages of pre-construction to start objectively measuring acoustic levels, and determine the best solution for the space.


Heather Corbin is Regional Account Manager for IVCi, LLC  in Atlanta, GA. She has 19 years of experience in the AV Industry and carries a CTS Certification, recognized by InfoComm International, Audiovisual (AV) Association. Heather works alongside design engineers, consultants and architects throughout various projects within Corporate, Healthcare and Educational environments. She has a Bachelor’s of Business Administration from Kennesaw State University, is on the Cobb Executive Women (CEW) steering committee, and an active Communications Committee member for CREW Atlanta. **This blog was condensed from an article co-written recently, and edited by Diane Hagan, Marketing Content specialist out of Hauppauge, NY. For the Full article, Click Here.

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Author: CREW Atlanta

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