Why is speech privacy important?

Lack of speech privacy carries real risk, particularly in facilities where there’s a perceived need for it, an expectation on the part of its users, or where it’s mandated by law.

Hospitals, banks, law firms and military facilities readily spring to mind. But occupants of other types of spaces also need privacy. In fact, a decade-long survey of 65,000 people run by the Center for the Built Environment found that lack of speech privacy is the number one complaint in commercial offices.

And no wonder. Overhearing conversations also affects concentration. According to research conducted by Finland’s Institute of Occupational Health, unwilling listeners demonstrate a five to 10 percent decline in performance when engaged in reading, writing or other forms of creative work. Given that office occupants spend over half their time on individual tasks requiring focus, the overall impact can be significant.

Though an organization might not consider privacy a goal—particularly within an open plan—taking the steps required to lower speech intelligibility also improves wellness and productivity.

What’s the role of sound masking?

Of course occupants should be mindful of their voice level, but proper etiquette is only effective to a point. The remainder of the acoustical burden has to be borne by the design using a three-tiered approach called the ‘ABC Rule,’ which stands for absorb, block and cover.

Most people are familiar with the methods used to block noises, as well as the benefits of installing materials to absorb them. Fewer understand what’s involved in covering. This strategy is implemented using a sound masking system—a series of loudspeakers that distribute an engineered sound similar to softly blowing air.

Though adding more sound to the facility might seem to contradict the goal of reducing noise, the premise is simple: any noises that are below this background sound are covered up, while the impact of those above it is lessened because the degree of volume change is smaller. The frequency of disruptions to occupants’ concentration is diminished. Similarly, conversations are either entirely masked or their intelligibility is reduced, improving speech privacy.

What about closed rooms?

Many people believe that private offices and meeting rooms don’t need sound masking because occupants are afforded speech privacy and noise control via physical isolation.

While walls lower the volume of sounds as they pass through them, they don’t completely stop noise or voices transferring from one side to the other. If the background sound level in the adjoining space is lower than the speech entering it, the conversation will still be heard and potentially intelligible. With today’s building standards, this is often the case.

When sound masking is included as a part of the acoustical planning for closed rooms, companies can save by reducing walls’ STC ratings and using floor-to-ceiling rather than deck-to-deck construction, also preserving flexibility for future renovation.

What are the keys to success?

It’s vital to ensure that the sound masking system is properly designed and tuned. Otherwise, occupants can experience a swing of 40% or more in performance across their space.

When combined with the LogiSon® Acoustic Network’s small zones, our unique TARGET-tuning process allows us to keep variations to just 0.5 dBA or less, providing dependable coverage throughout the installation.


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