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Ergonomics Blog - sound masking

Tips for Increasing Productivity & Reducing Eye Strain


Knowledge Workers

If you spend your days in an office or a computer, you're probably a “knowledge worker” and by many estimates, there are more than 50 million workers just like you in the US. First coined in 1959 by Peter Drucker, a “knowledge worker” refers to almost anyone who works with data –compiling, analyzing, reporting and editing information.


There are many unique challenges that knowledge workers face, but those that hurt your ability to focus are probably the most dangerous. After decades of study, industry experts point to conversational distractions as the leading cause of lost productivity in the workplace today - costing businesses nearly $600 billion in 2008 alone. While this number is often shocking to those in largely private executive wings, it's no surprise to those who work in cubicles, enclosed offices, or the more than 15 million who work from home offices or telecommute. An ASID study showed that distracted workers make more mistakes, suffer from higher levels of stress, and are absent more often from work.

On the other hand, workers in environments with even minor acoustical treatments, such as the use of white noise or sound masking, had the following results:

  • 48% more focused on their work
  • 51% less distracted
  • 10% fewer errors
  • 27% decrease in worker stress


– A free white noise generator. It's not a true sound masking solution in that it's not a targeted spectrum system, but it does provide limited acoustic privacy via your computer speakers to help you focus easier.

BetterIndividual sound machines. This is the best solution for those who don't have the budgetary authority to provide better privacy for an entire department, floor or building.

Best- Sound masking is most effective when you treat the entire office environment, rather than "spot treatments” because you are masking where the sound is heard, not where it originates. Thus, the best solution is to treat the entire workspace, providing seamless, uniform sound masking.

Eye Strain

You probably are aware of lost time to distraction at work and the resulting stress. What you may not have considered (before the damage is done anyway) is the strain on your eyes. It makes sense, though, that staring at a computer all day could lead to eye strain- but as a knowledge worker, it may seem impossible to avoid. Fortunately, eye strain is not an inevitable result of office work.

Here are a few tips for avoiding eye strain:

  • Choose a glare-free desktop (ie not glass) since glare contributes to eye strain.
  • Ensure that your work space on your desktop can facilitate a 20 inch distance between your monitor and your eyes.
  • Choose a monitor with a riser/swivel stand or use a lift mate to enable you to tilt the monitor to a glare-free position.
  • Make sure your reading glasses are ideal for reading from a monitor. Frequently, you will actually need a lower prescription for computer usage (i.e. if you need a +2.0, a +1.0 or +1.5 will allow you to read your screen). This keeps you from leaning forward into your screen all day, leaving you with a sore neck from improper posture. Also, the higher quality lenses of designer reading glasses often reduce headaches as well as prescriptions. Sometimes spending the extra dollar is worth it.
  • Rest your eyes as you can- you can do this several ways: 1) focus on something farther away every so often, 2) switch between tasks, i.e. between computer-related tasks and other types of tasks, and 3) blink often to keep your eyes moist.
  • As for your monitor, tilt it to where you can read it best- a good rule of thumb is to angle it so it’s perpendicular with your line of sight (usually not more than 10 or 20 degrees). There are lots of desks that have great options for monitor placement.
  • Finally, simple housekeeping, such as dusting, will obviously keep the screen clean and readable, but will also help you stay organized and not overwhelmed.

By being proactive in how you set up your work station, you can be less distracted, and therefore more productive, while also counteracting typical work-related issues, such as eye strain.

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