The latest neurology research from the University of California at Irvine says it takes nearly half an hour to get back on task after an involuntary distraction: An average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds. Across an entire team, that can add up to many lost hours a day.
Some of those involuntary distractions arise from issues that are ultimately under the control of your personnel, such as optional notifications from software programs. But many of them come from the work environment itself, especially the background noise and chatter of a busy office.
Studies indicate that when people get distracted, they make up for it by working on their existing tasks faster. However, this isn’t the good news it might appear to be: They incur greater stress and frustration due to a higher perception of time pressure and the effort needed to overcome it.
All this can be caused by distracting noise, such as a nearby conversation between coworkers.
Professional sound masking systems provide the opportunity to reduce distractions effectively. If you are wondering whether sound masking is worth the investment, consider the ways it helps.
Sound Masking Reduces Awareness Of Distracting Office Chatter, Cutting Cognitive Load
When enterprises look for ways to optimize their existing office footprint, sound masking is an option that consistently comes up. No matter your building’s current layout, you can benefit from sound masking. Sound masking is a sensible alternative to erecting new walls and other barriers that can control ambient noise, since each such barrier also reduces available workspace.
Sound masking applies sophisticated acoustic principles to make conversations in the office indecipherable to those not participating in them. Done correctly, sound masking dulls noise to such a degree that even a phone call in the next cubicle does not cause a distraction.
The basic idea is similar to “white noise,” but much more advanced.
Yes, sound masking does not affect all sound in the environment. If you are in an office with heavy construction going on next door, for example, you will still have noise issues to contend with. However, sound masking targets and eliminates the single biggest source of distraction.
The human brain is uniquely fine-tuned to process speech, making it remarkably bothersome.
In truth, the brain is constantly processing signals from the environment that we aren’t always fully aware of. This is a key survival trait – and it causes the brain to “home in” on things that have high informational content, such as a discussion taking place a short distance away.
Try as you might to tune it out, a part of your brain is always aware of the conversation. You might have noticed this effect if you’ve ever been trying to ignore the other occupants of a crowded room only to automatically “tune in” when you hear your name or another “keyword.”
Sound masking systems effectively nullify the high decibel range of the spoken word, allowing conversations to melt into the background. They soon become indistinct and “information-free.”
This is crucial because of the concept of cognitive load.
Cognitive load refers to the limits of memory – that is, the maximum number of tasks that can occupy your short-term memory. A distracting environment increases cognitive load, leading to lower task proficiency and making it less likely employees will master the skills they practice.
You have probably heard about recent discoveries that indicate there is no such thing as multitasking: The brain can only focus on one thing at a time, and incurs heavy penalties whenever it switches from one task to another. A noisy environment imposes additional cognitive load and makes it as if you are multitasking all the time, even when you are trying to focus.
A few months after implementing sound masking, many enterprises find that they are making progress on key performance indicators that require sustained concentration and focused efforts.
Sound masking isn’t just for open offices, but also ideal for call centers where dozens or even hundreds of personnel must stay laser-focused on a single customer. Sound masking can also improve quality of life for personnel in many indirect ways. These incremental gains in staff well-being are linked to higher morale, less absenteeism, and lower overall turnover.
The other key strategic argument for sound masking has to do with confidentiality.
Sound Masking Protects Confidentiality For Your Customers And Employees
In recent years, personnel at all levels of the enterprise have been enlisted to help protect clients’ confidential data. This is especially important in highly regulated industries such as healthcare, where HIPAA protections demand extraordinary safeguards.
But what about verbal conversations?
Conversations can be rich in sensitive data, yet most companies do not have a speech privacy strategy to speak of. Efforts focus on sequestering confidential conversations to specific offices.
However, confidential information can easily be overheard. It may be spread by accident in areas where group work takes place, even when everyone has the best of intentions. And this kind of confidentiality breach has regulatory consequences even if no one acts on it.
Sound masking allows you to divide your building into “sound zones” where conversations are much less likely to carry over – not only between rooms but within rooms. This helps you ensure appropriate protections are preserved even when space isn’t available for a 1-on-1 meeting. It also helps in reception areas where clients, themselves, might incidentally disclose details.
This has made sound masking popular in a wide variety of settings:
- Law offices
- Accounting firms
- Hospitals and clinics
- Government agencies
- Law enforcement
Sound masking may not prevent all accidental disclosures of confidential information, but it makes them less likely. It also demonstrates your commitment to creating an environment where sensitive information is properly controlled, a key finding if any dispute arises.
When you’re weighing the costs of a professional sound masking system, consider how the costs stack up against even one incident of mishandling confidential information – which could lead to thousands of dollars in auditing, fines, and lost business.
Sound Masking Performs Best When Installed By The Experts
A good sound masking system isn’t just a matter of distributing speakers around your office. Sound masking devices must be calibrated correctly, customized to your sound environment, and placed in a way that maximizes effect while minimizing maintenance costs.
Atlantic Communications Team has installed state of the art sound masking equipment across all of Central Florida. Businesses of any industry and size category can benefit. To learn more about our sound masking services, just contact us today. We look forward to helping you.