Sound Masking & Hybrid Workplaces

The future is activity-based working and our sound masking technology is ahead of the curve. Learn how today's ever-evolving hybrid office can continuously deliver a comfortable, distraction-free soundscape that employees need to perform their best.

Workplace Flexibility Is Becoming the New Normal

COVID-19 and the necessary sanitary measures have forced us to rethink our office spaces. For some companies, the reflection was an entirely new one, a true crash course in getting the usual job done in unusual circumstances. For others, the crisis merely provided an opportunity to accelerate their transition to a more flexible work environment – a process already well thought out and well underway prior to the pandemic. After all, virus or no virus, higher workplace flexibility was ranked at the top of most employees’ wishlist for quite some time.

And flexibility they all got, like it or not, as millions of North Americans found themselves working from home, on their own terms, on their own schedule, away from what many began to remember as their old office’s rigid framework. What’s more, many really started to enjoy working remotely from the comfort of their homes. Some even became more productive teammates in doing so. But after months working apart, many also began to miss the office, socializing and collaborating in ways that just aren’t possible remotely. For this reason, spaces that are designed to support these work modes, flexibility and collaboration in particular, aren’t going anywhere.

Nevermind our new responsibility to enforce proper safety measures, inside or outside the office, open-plan designs and activity-based working are here to stay and grow in popularity. Now more than ever, employees are expecting to have the option to choose where in or out of the office they work based on the specific task they have to complete. Welcome to today's workplace.

Social Distancing Measures Mean Lower Office Capacity

Whichever way you look at it, your 5000 Sq. feet post-covid office may very well not accommodate the same number of employees as your 5000 Sq. feet pre-covid office. Social distancing will likely turn your 8-person benching workstation into a 4-person benching workstation. If you previously had two people working together in an enclosed office pod, you may now have to rethink that layout altogether.

Depending on current office layout, you may continue to support working from home as a cost-effective strategy to ensure a safer workplace density, or you may view the last couple months as a strong signal that it’s time to redeploy your real estate in completely new ways, fully re-optimizing your office footprint in the process.

Either way, the global COVID-19 pandemic will have had a lasting impact on how you approach just another day at the office. Perhaps even without realizing it just yet, you have already begun your transition toward a model resembling activity-based working.

Before COVID-19
After COVID-19

Lower Office Capacity Calls for Higher Workspace Flexibility

Ever noticed how some of the world’s coolest offices are often located where cost per square foot is most expensive? Scarcity drives creativity and innovation. And when each square foot really matters, improving office space efficiency and employee productivity become one and the same.

Is it really necessary to provide ALL employees with their own assigned desk? What if high-performers preferred to choose a place in the office where it’s most suitable for them to complete certain tasks? That’s what activity-based working is all about: letting employees choose between a variety of work areas, each perfectly designed for a specific activity.

On any given day, the activity-based office design allows them to work in the kind of space that best supports the type of task at hand. No more assigned workstations. No more rigid seating arrangements. Employees are empowered to work on their own terms, in the office just like at home. That’s right, the office may start feeling like home.

More Flexibility Means a Less Predictable Office Soundscape

What about office noise? What about all the distractions at work—from mundane sounds, such as phones ringing, keyboard typing, coffee grinding and photocopier whirring, to loud conversations among colleagues—just lurking around to steal every worker’s focus across the open floor plan? In an office space with less walls and less boundaries, will employees be able to discuss private, sensitive matters, according to the level of confidentiality required? Will they feel comfortable in doing so?

Achieving Good Acoustic Privacy and Comfort at All Times With Adaptive Sound Masking Technology

Both too much and too little noise can be detrimental to the office worker experience and performance. And while most reputable sound masking systems out there are designed to perfectly even out your office’s sonic landscape, doing an especially great job at drowning out private and distracting conversations, how can such systems figure out how loud or quiet the office actually is on any given day, at any minute? How can sound masking be effective in both noisy and quiet conditions?

In today's hybrid workplace where two days are never quite alike, managing your sound masking system volume on a predefined schedule just won’t cut it. Your sound masking system will need to be just as flexible as your workspace. It’ll need to dynamically adapt its output to your ever-changing working environment, based on how loud and quiet specific work areas get throughout the day.

Adaptive sound masking technology

How Sound Masking Automatically Adapts to Your Office Soundscape and Makes It Better

Our sound masking system emits just the right amount of ambient sound to cover up the noises and conversations that employees shouldn’t have to hear, at any given time, regardless of how busy or quiet the office gets. No need to pre-schedule it. No need to figure out upfront when or where your office space gets acoustically uncomfortable. Our system automatically ensures greater auditory privacy, confidentiality, and a distraction-free environment, whenever office workers need them most.

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When the Office Space Is Near Full

On a busy day in the hybrid workplace, things will almost feel back to normal, if it wasn’t for the 1/2 gallon hand sanitizer jugs and the safety signage lying here and there. Employees will be going about their daily workload—answering phone calls, writing emails, attending presentations, finalizing important reports, collaborating on sales pitches, discussing tough challenges, and exchanging new ideas.

The office will be buzzing with all kinds of activities underway. And of course, the office will be noisy. The more the noisier, right? On such busier, noisier office days, the key challenge brought by activity-based working, and open offices in general, is rather simple:

Making sure that every employee can get in focus and innovate distraction-free amid a highly stimulating working environment.

So on such days, the right sound masking system will seamlessly blend in the relatively high office background noise level, while continuously adjusting itself to noisier spikes—typically arising from casual chitchats, loud voices, and verbal communication in general—and quieter lows.

When the Office Space Is Near Empty

Would you enjoy working in a pin-drop silent room, totally aware of everyone else’s presence, knowing full well that they too can probably hear you breathe, sneeze, cough, stretch, rummage in your drawers for a pen, and even think? Neither does the average office worker.

On a quiet day in the hybrid workplace, left partially empty by employees having decided to work remotely, those who need to sit in the office that day will find that even the faintest sounds become clearly audible. The ambient noise level will be exceptionally low that’s why. Remember those vast midterm exam rooms in college? It felt slightly uneasy, didn’t it? So when your quiet office gets too quiet, your main challenge is:

Helping office workers feel at ease, silently or not so silently, in their "own private bubble", oblivious to their surroundings.

On such days, your sound masking system will subtly increase the background noise level just enough to drown out the attention hogging sounds that no employee should be forced to clearly hear, without this little extra background noise becoming a source of distraction in itself.

Making a Successful Transition to an Unassigned Workplace With Sound Masking Technology

Learn how CAE—a world leader in training for civil aviation, defence, and healthcare—achieved higher employee engagement with less office floor space, and integrated sound masking to make the most of activity-based working.

View case study

How Hybrid Workspace Design and Sound Masking Technology Have Worked Hand in Hand for Over 10 Years

Our Partnership With Kokuyo

Today’s office design should accommodate a variety of activities ranging from deep solo work to informal team scrums to more formal meetings. This is activity-based working.

For more than a century, our Japanese partner, Kokuyo group, has been supplying innovative office furniture to all sorts of organizations, from major Asian firms to global companies with offices all over the world, while playing a key role in helping them embrace activity-based working.

What kind of work style reform can we help organizations achieve through our products and services? This question is what keeps Kokuyo striving to propose uniquely tailored spaces that bring out the best in individuals, inspire creative work, ignites productivity, and supports employee wellness.

For many years, the Kokuyo Group had been a go-to resource for organizations looking to achieve more with less through the activity-based working model. They knew a lot about improving employee performance and well-being by giving them the choice to work however and wherever they see fit. And they certainly had innovative ideas on how future office designs could deliver this most sought-after workplace flexibility.

Activity-Based Working Without Compromise

But Kokuyo also knew full well that activity-based working and open work areas came at a certain cost: tougher acoustics, ever-fluctuating levels of distraction, a lesser sense of privacy, both visual and auditory, and potential confidentiality issues.

Meanwhile, as a world-renowned expert in acoustical engineering with over 20 years of innovations in workspace acoustics, sound measurements and noise mitigation, we at Soft dB knew a lot about solving the acoustical downsides of activity-based working environments.

Indeed, tomorrow’s relationship-driven workplace – with less walls, less boundaries, more space to collaborate, and designed with a premium on flexibility – didn’t have to come at the expense of sonic comfort and privacy. And so began a long and fruitful international partnership between Kokuyo and Soft dB. On one end, a team of experts passionate about taking workspace design to a new level, and, on the other end, a team of experts passionate about achieving superior architectural acoustics.

Acoustic Privacy and Comfort Without Walls

So for over 10 years now, Kokuyo has been helping companies of all shapes and sizes make the most of activity-based working, while integrating Soft dB’s patented sound masking technology, early in the office design process, to provide employees with:

  • Just the right level of auditory privacy and anonymity, without the need for walls
  • A place free from noisy distractions for deep focus, creative thinking and getting into flow
  • The freedom to take and make phone calls, whatever their nature, without disturbing others
  • The ability to openly discuss sensitive matters among colleagues and with superiors, without the fear of being overheard across the entire floor
  • The power to be their own comfy self, extroverts and introverts alike – fidgeting around, thinking out loud, snacking on-the-go, sneezing, breathing, dropping a pen – all without becoming the office’s center of attention
  • The right office soundscape, the right level of sonic comfort, that many previously thought to be practically unachievable in open-plan work environments.

Want to Integrate Sound Masking Technology in Your Hybrid Workspace?

Our advanced sound masking system will help you increase productivity in your workspace by reducing common noisy distractions and improving acoustic privacy when and where it matters most. A comfortable office soundscape positively impacts employee mood, drive and performance.

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