Why You Might Need Sound Masking

Have you ever tried carrying on a conversation with another adult when a child {or two or three} is around?  Usually, you have to just wait to finish it- parenting books out the window, it’s just too aggravating to have a real conversation amongst wee ones.  The reason is this: children just can’t help but interrupt, and the result is utter distractability.  I’ve even taught my kids to tap me on the arm when they have something to say, at which point I rest my hand on their hand to signal I understand their request but they need to wait until I finish.  Sometimes this actually works, but never in the car since they can’t reach me.  Even when they can, I usually get derailed from my train of thought.

This same phenomenon occurs in most offices, except it’s not our kids and we don’t love them with all our hearts.  In fact, co-workers are often quite a bit more obnoxious and certainly never follow the hand on your arm rule to interrupt.  And sadly, there’s no way to just finish the conversation later- you’re at work!  So, there you are, held captive by all your co-workers and their drama.  In fact, the average worker is distracted 2 hours a day!

As a result, those facilities that require sound treatment frequently look to sound masking systems that have been designed to emit low-level, structured white noise through in-ceiling speakers via direct-field technology.  The benefits of systems are that they can be zoned to treat specific problem areas and that these zones are invisible.  No awkward walls are added, carpeting or absorbent paneling is not necessary- in fact, facility managers can install the systems themselves in a matter of hours for immediate, effective sound coverage!

But, how does it work?  Essentially, the white noise used in sound masking systems is structured , meaning it is uniform instead of constantly changing, like speech, music, or general office noise.  This consistent noise allows the brain to tune out the inconsistencies and therefore helps workers in two main ways:

  1. First, they are less distracted.  The average worker is distracted more than 2 hours a day!  By reducing the number of distractions workers face every day, you enable those workers to stay focused and be more productive.
  2. Second, they enjoy confidentiality.  Sound masking provides speech privacy which renders surrounding speech unintelligible, and therefore protects the speakers from being overheard if the information is sensitive for any reason.

As you can see, sound masking technology can be quite beneficial for many businesses or practices because it enables workers to be more productive, as well as more protected, whether it’s a trade secret or just personal.  Besides being highly effective, sound masking is a great noise solution because it is fairly inexpensive {especially considering the immediate results}  and it is invisible to the eye and does not require aesthetic changes be made for installation.  As a result, sound masking can be planned for or added to an existing facility.

Office Acoustics & Why They’re Getting Worse

The modern office has become a noisy, distracting environment,and it’s only getting worse.  In a study by the Data Entry Management Association, poor office acoustics increased the errors made in data entries by as much as 27%.   Furthermore, cost-cutting tactics lead to workstations being placed more closely together than ever, with the result of more people making noise in a smaller area.  Additionally, telecommunications has become vital to doing business, resulting in the distracting sounds of phones and fax machines all day long.

Here are some seemingly random, yet beneficial tips that can help increase your productivity and concentration even in the midst of a noisy environment.

Prioritize your day. It’s easy to lose a half hour to an hour checking email.  Instead, start your day with more important tasks or items on your to-do list.  Usually, even if you’re not a morning person, you’re starting off fresh and hopefully before you’ve hit any snags.  Only check your voice mail or e-mail once or twice a day, and keep your own messages short and direct. Don’t let low priority tasks interrupt you constantly throughout the day.

Use white noise. Today’s sound masking technology is very precise and floods the background with “white” noise that focused on the spectrum of human speech. Office-wide sound masking can lower distractions by up to 51 percent by covering the excess conversations and noise in an open floor plan. You can also try a personal sound machine, if you don’t have control over the sound quality in the office.

Limit distractions and interruptions. This sounds like one of those easier said than done tips, and, well it’s true.  However, limiting your distractions is crucial because the average worker is interrupted more than 70 times each day. While you can’t control it all, you can certainly control yourself…right?  Try establishing a “no-interruption” time of about an hour to focus on important tasks (see first tip). Start by turning off all your self-distractions, like your phone and e-mail. Spend this time in focused concentration. Turn on a white noise machine to cover office noise(see second tip). You can even post a sign indicating that you currently cannot be interrupted, and a time when you will be available again. You can repeat this focused time throughout the day to make the most of your time.

Improve your posture. Crazy, unexpected one.  Bad posture is not just something your mom worries about.  Poor posture wastes energy because your body hurts and you don’t stay focused.  Even worse, you may end up with a stress injury.  Start with a good, ergonomic chair and adjust it to properly fit you. First, adjust the height of the seat so that your feet are flat on the floor. Next, move the backrest on your chair to fit the curve of your spine. You should also add portable lumbar support if your chair does not fully support your lower back. Finally, move your arm rests low enough or out of the way while typing to allow free arm movement.

The Cost of Distracted, Disengaged Workers

Office noise is one of the most commonly complained about office issues.  It’s easy to assume that workers kind of enjoy being distracted, as if it moved the day faster or made it more fun.  My husband used to waste hours as an electrical engineer on office pranks and even taste tests.  And while he did in fact enjoy his time spent away from work, I did not appreciate his time spent away from home.  That’s because he would have to go in some evenings or weekends to make up for projects not finished by deadlines.  I’ll admit my husband brought a lot of his own woes upon himself, but his poor office mates and co-workers were pulled into it regardless.  Distracted workers are disengaged workers.  And disengaged workers are costly because they are far less productive, make more mistakes while solving fewer problems, and have higher absenteeism and turn-over rates.  This all adds up to approximately $600 billion per year for US businesses.

Dealing with Distraction

There are two main ways to counter-act office noise/distraction- hint- one of them is not banning the internet.  Actually, the most distracting and unnecessary part of a worker’s day is conversational distraction.  So, the idea is to use sound masking to cover it.  The two ways to do that are to cover noise individually or corporately.

  1. Sound Machine.  Sound machines use white noise for individual users that can be adjusted as necessary.  They are affordable, but only work for 1 user at a time.
  2. Sound Masking System.  Like the name implies, this is a system that is intended for larger spaces.  It is zoned so that it’s not just a louder application.

If $600 billion a year bothers you, then consider what bothers your workers {noise!} and implement some form of sound masking to reclaim your part of it.

Dealing with Stereotypes

When I think of call centers, I usually think of the evil people who prey on bored, lonely grandmas mid-afternoon, selling them incredibly useless or over-priced products they’ll never use (but just might re-gift for Christmas or a birthday).  Or, I think of the people who call us during dinner or the moment the baby has just fallen asleep.  Or the people who can’t pronounce our last names, but act like we’re friends.  Regardless of whether my vision is correct or not, this is what many of us cringe about when we hear the phone ring and don’t recognize the number.

Interestingly, though, call centers are full of people too.  People with equally difficult to pronounce names perhaps who are trying to do their jobs.  And, they’re not always trying to sell you a set of knives.  Often, they’re on the receiving end of the call.  That’s right, call centers provide customer service, too.  They answer difficult questions over the phone, trying to provide tech support or help us set up a new product.

Dealing with Acoustics

To provide the most professional service possible, it’s important for call centers to deal with these stereotypes.  Part of it lies in the way in which calls are made and received.  Not only do those working at the center need to know their business, they need to deal with the acoustics of the center.

  • Background sound, even other callers, can make a customer feel like a number instead of a person.
  • The same background noise can be quite distracting for both customer and caller.
  • When a potential customer hears all this, it only adds to the feeling that their personal information is up for grabs.

Noise is quite a problem for call centers, both for the callers and the recipients.  Callers struggle to hear over other callers and recipients can hear all the background noise.  So, here’s the funny thing- noise can actually be the solution, the right kind of noise, that is.  White noise is a generated sound meant to counteract unwanted noise.  Businesses use it to reduce distractions, as well as provide confidentiality.  These same benefits help call centers, too.  A sound masking system helps both callers and prospective customers/donors by allowing them to tune out the overly distracting background noise.

The great thing about sound masking systems is that they can be added to any facility, including call centers, without even affecting the aesthetics.  You see, a sound masking system is installed in the ceiling tiles in a matter of minutes.  Thus, it is invisible and doesn’t even shut down the day’s business.  So, if you have a noisy call center and are looking for a noise solution that doesn’t require totally changing the set-up, rest assured that the VoiceArrest Sound Masking System is an invisible, affordable, effective, and quick fix for any facility.

Patient Satisfaction

Tonight at dinner my young daughter asked me what “satisfied” meant.  After some thought, my husband ended up answering with “satisfied means someone is pleased with how something turned out.”  What a great definition.  Press Ganey patient satisfaction surveys tell us that there is a clear link between patient satisfaction and their perception of quality of care and profitability.  That means that happy patients are those who believe they have received quality care.  Thus, even if quality care has been provided, if the perception is not there, patients still walk away unsatisfied.  As a result, it’s essential to provide both quality care and perception of care.

Sound Masking: Something Every Medical Facility Should Offer

Satisfied patients are important beyond the obvious condition of being pleased.  They

  • experience less stress themselves.
  • present less stress to medical staff, resulting in fewer errors and more profit.
  • share their experiences with others and are willing to refer your practice or hospital to their friends and family.

Therefore, it’s important to deal with common complaints from patients, one of which being noise control (or lack thereof).  Patients in shared rooms next to noisy halls or by nurse’s stations, or even those in waiting rooms are doctor’s offices are faced with excessive sound, all the while dealing with bad news, grief, or just their own stress of the moment.

Possible Sound Leaks

  • in a common waiting room
  • through the walls
  • via a telephone conversation
  • among medical staff

Sound Masking & How it Works

Perception is everything, and your patients need to feel valued and important enough that you took the proper steps to safeguard both their records and their conversations. Those steps include sound masking. Rather than re-design your entire office or hospital, you can install a simple, but effective sound masking system.  This type of technology uses white noise to add a low-level background sound to a room or office.  This low-level noise fills in the spectrum of sound so as to render speech unintelligible or even unnoticed.   And while this sound is loud enough to be effective, it is also quiet enough not to be annoying itself.

 

 

Last week, I opened a new account at a new bank.  They offered a cash bonus for new accounts, so my husband and I decided to give this branch a shot.  It was convenient and seemed like a good move.  Interestingly, after a very long wait in the lobby line with not enough tellers, I realized how far conversation travels in a confined space.  You can’t help but strain a little bit to hear any snippet of conversation to pass the time.  This being the case, I could hear all transactions, as well as an older gentleman explaining (in detail) his exact financial situation as he set up various accounts for his retirement.

When I finally was taken to a private desk, I was noticed the banker had a monitor shield and a couple other digital protective devices.  Obviously the bank had gone to the trouble to protect what they deemed privacy leaks, but they had missed an important one: conversation.  Don’t get me wrong- it’s not as if I’m .007 and I now have taken over the bank’s assets from this conversational leak.  I haven’t.  But that’s not to say that someone else couldn’t.

Establishing Speech Privacy

Speech privacy is a commodity- it’s not easily attained without being intentional.  Financial institutions could certainly benefit from fewer digital and conversational leaks. Besides increased productivity, the added bonus of speech privacy for banks is just that: privacy. Be it for the bank itself, or the customer, speech privacy cannot be over-rated.  That’s why every aspect of leaks needs to be considered- not just the digital ones.

Consider Possible Sound Leaks:

It’s great that there are signs for customers to stand back a few feet for the privacy of the customer in front of him, but a few feet really don’t make a huge difference if there’s speech intelligibility.  Conversations travel from tellers to customers to other customers to the lobby, etc.  And that’s just the people waiting in line.  It doesn;t account for the hundreds of other conversations that take place at “private” desks or over the phone.

Consider the following: where do you discuss or use confidential and/or legally-protected client information?  Now consider the following facts:

  • Walls, doors and windows vibrate and can transmit sound
  • HVAC ducts can carry sound far from the intended audience
  • Telephones can be bugged

Even when basic privacy measures are taken, if conversation is transmitted, then there’s simply not confidentiality.  Sound masking systems are designed to establish speech privacy and plug the easy to miss leaks.  The result is happier customers and happier bankers…because everyone wants to feel and be safe.  I know I do.

Workers complain about work place distractions as a major contributor to loss of focus and productivity.  Digital distractions, such as smart phones and laptops with ever-streaming sources of information, are an easy scapegoat.  Interestingly, not only are these devices necessary for actual work, they are not the number one source of work place distraction.

Conversational Distractions

Conversational distractions are in fact the most complained about distractions in the office and have always existed.

  • Acoustic dissatisfaction is the leading source of workplace dissatisfaction

  • This acoustic dissatisfaction is most frequently related to speech privacy, overhearing unwanted conversations

  • In a study of seven office buildings, 72% of respondents were dissatisfied with speech privacy in their workplace

The result of distracted workers is disengagement which leads to all sorts of problems: higher stress, lower productivity, and more mistakes, sick days, and turn-over.

Sound Masking

Fortunately, there is an alternative.  Simply by achieving speech privacy, you limit the number and source of distraction so that the brain tunes it out and keep on working.  Like the many forms of distraction, there are many ways  in which to think about speech privacy, most commonly referred to as the ABC’s of sound masking.

  • You can ABSORB the sound with panels or better ceiling tiles.

  • You can BLOCK the sound by building walls or furniture partitions.

  • You can COVER the sound by installing a high quality sound masking system.

These three tools are not mutually-exclusive, meaning they work best in conjunction.  However, covering, or sound masking with a system like the VoiceArrest, is by far the most effective and also the least invasive measure.

If lost time to distractions is a concern for your company, be sure to check out your various speech privacy options.  They are often more affordable than you imagined, and certainly more effective than most believe.

Patient Satisfaction

Press Ganey patient satisfaction surveys tell us that there is a clear link between patient satisfaction and their perception of quality of care and profitability.  Even if quality care is provided, if the perception is not there, patients walk away unsatisfied.  Thus, it’s essential to provide both quality care and the perception of care.  Thus, it’s important to serve patients as people and give them what they want because satisfied patients:

  • experience less stress themselves.
  • present less stress to medical staff, resulting in fewer errors and more profit.
  • share their experiences with others and are willing to refer your practice or hospital to their friends and family.

Case in Point

When we think about sitting in a waiting room, few of us follow the thought with, “Oh sweet! I hope I get to do that again real soon.”  Even waiting for just a simple check-up, we’re often impatient and even nervous.  We think of difficult times.  Throw in a surprise middle of the night illness for a beloved child or a consultation for a more serious disease, and that nervousness grows to constant worry with a caged-in feeling.  Waiting rooms can become the enemy, especially when you’re not alone and certainly when you have to bring your own small children with you.

Sound Masking: Something Every Medical Facility Should Offer

From check-ups to the deliveries of my babies to cancer checks to RSV to watching operations go wrong to just going to see a doctor with 3 antsy, wiggly little ones, waiting rooms have become the bane of my medical experience.  Even when we’ve received good or positive news, nothing really redeems that time or the feelings and fears I can’t help but associate with it.   In addition, HIPAA requires medical professionals to safeguard medical records by all reasonable means and that new legislation fines for breaches. Few practices knowingly transmit patients’ medical files, but many unintentionally do just that as a result of sound leaks via the facility itself.

Possible Sound Leaks

  • in a common waiting room
  • through the walls
  • via a telephone conversation
  • among medical staff

Sound Masking & How it Works

Perception is everything, and your patients need to feel valued and important enough that you took the proper steps to safeguard both their records and their conversations. Those steps include sound masking. Rather than re-design your entire office or hospital, you can install a simple, but effective sound masking system.  This type of technology uses white noise to add a low-level background sound to a room or office.  This low-level noise fills in the spectrum of sound so as to render speech unintelligible or even unnoticed.   And while this sound is loud enough to be effective, it is also quiet enough not to be annoying itself.

Instead of tearing out, replacing, or re-designing your medical facility, a sound masking system can offer a nearly invisible solution to customer dissatisfaction.

 

Everyday Distractions

Workers are distracted.  There’s no denying it.

  • The average worker is distracted more than 2 hours a day.
  • They are interrupted over 70 times a day.
  • These distracted workers cost businesses just under $600 billion a year!

Distracted workers aren’t exactly focused or wonderfully motivated.  In fact, they’re known as disengaged workers.  And disengaged workers cost you a lot of money – much more than you may know. A study by the Towers-Perrin Group found a 52% gap in one-year operating income, when comparing companies with highly engaged employees versus companies whose employees have low engagement scores.

  • High engagement companies improved 19.2%
  • In contrast, low engagement companies declined 32.7% in operating income over the study period.

Sound Masking

Sound masking is the use of white noise to combat office noise and its costly distraction for all businesses, big or small.  While there are a lot of options out there, the VoiceArrest Sound Masking System is arguably the best and most effective sound masking system available.

Studies show us that workers in noisy offices suffered from high levels of stress and made more mistakes than workers in comparably quieter offices.  In addition, these workers in loud offices also tried to solve problems 40% less frequently and made fewer (half as many) ergonomic adjustments to their work spaces.  All of this adds up to less productive, more problematic workers and work stations.

Enter the VoiceArrest.  Instead of all the hullabaloo of the typical office and its noises and conversations, workers hear the benefits of  four-channel speech privacy technology.  The VoiceArrest sounds like the gentle whooshing sound of a high-end HVAC system that covers conversations and other distractions. It’s like listening to quadraphonic surround sound – the sound is full, yet you can’t pinpoint exactly where it’s coming from. It uniformly blends into the office background virtually unnoticed – so natural that you won’t even realize it’s there.  In fact, most employees report that they don’t notice the sound masking system; what they notice is the lack of distracting noise.  This is great news!  Imagine stress levels going down, fewer errors made, better work station design and therefore fewer injuries or stress strains, and more focused workers- all of this contributes to increased productivity.

How the VoiceArrest is Superior

The spatial and spectral uniformity delivered by the VoiceArrest™ Sound Masking System permits its operation at substantially lower sound levels than competitive systems, while still maintaining masking effectiveness. To put it another way, it provides more privacy per decibel of sound produced. While other masking systems must be operated at 48-51 dB in order to provide acceptable privacy conditions for most occupants, the VoiceArrest™ Sound Masking System is normally operated at 45 dB under the same conditions. The increased effectiveness provided by the VoiceArrest™ System allows you to have both equivalent privacy and quieter, less intrusive sound,

Eavesdropping in the Work Place & How to Protect Against It

In discussing the legality of eavesdropping, the Houston Chronicle says,

Eavesdropping at work occurs in several forms: the employee who stands in the hall near an open door to listen to a conversation, electronic surveillance of computers, wiretapping on telephones and video surveillance. Although eavesdropping may have always been considered “sneaky” and possibly unethical, whether these activities are legal depends on federal, state and local regulations. In some cases, laws are absent or so vague that almost any sort of activity is permitted.

While it’s great that some states do have laws against eavesdropping, it’s frustrating and ineffective when they are so widespread.  Eavesdropping may just be a nuisance for some, but for others, the wrong information in the wrong hands can be devastating.  Thus it’s essential that concerned parties take the necessary steps to protect themselves.  It’s critical to understand how and where privacy leaks occur in the first place, as well as what resources are effective in dealing with them.

Possible Sound Leaks

The first step is knowing where and how sound leaks happen.

  • Walls, doors and windows vibrate and can transmit sound
  • HVAC ducts can carry sound far from the intended audience
  • Telephones can be bugged

Important to note:  

  • There are over 700,000 eavesdropping devices sold each year
  • Over 6,500 incidents of industrial espionage occur in the United States each year with an average economic impact of $1.25 million per incident.
  • Speech privacy breaches cost Fortune 1000 companies over $53 billion annually

The amount of speech privacy breaches is growing at a phenomenal rate.  Every year the demand for the best in sound masking technology goes up, as sales of audio surveillance devices increase.

Elements of a Sound-Proof Room

The obvious next question, is what can I do about it?????  Treating an acoustic environment sounds complex, but it is often described as “the ABC’s.” These describe the only methods of making a room truly “sound proof.”

  • Absorb
  • Block
  • Cover

To break it down, absorbing is the use of panels or ceiling tiles to suck in sound.  Blocking is the use of extra walls or furniture panels to block sound, while covering is the use of sound masking to mask sound.  The first two ABC’s are physical changes to the environment and can be effective, but usually in conjunction with covering.  Covering is the most effective resource on its own.

If you feel your company or facility could be victim to a speech privacy breach, be sure to check out where it may be vulnerable and how to effectively protect all involved.