Offices hum to the sounds of static

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Office activity has traditionally been punctuated by the rhythms of chattering keyboards, shrieking telephones, bubbling water coolers, and murmuring voices.

Some offices are adding a new sound: static.

A desire to mask the distractions of background office sounds for those operating in cubicles or open areas has led a growing number of companies to buy what are inaccurately termed "white noise" systems, according to Kurt Moeller of Scamp Sound Systems of Ontario.

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The theory: These acoustic devices boost employee productivity by assisting concentration. A study cited by Cambridge Sound Management claims worker satisfaction levels rose by 174 percent after "sound masking" minimized the distraction caused by other people's conversations. The report, conducted by Armstrong World Industries in Lancaster, Pa., concluded that employees reported a 13 percent increase in effectiveness in their work and a 27 percent reduction in stress levels.

Some of the systems are ceiling-mounted, producing sound from a single source. Others, resembling compact stereo speakers with adjustable volume controls, emit an unobtrusive 'whooshing' background ambience that actually makes nearby conversation unintelligible.

Experts agree that sound-masking systems are more effective when they are strategically integrated with sound-absorbing panels, ceilings, and floors.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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