A noisy workplace can be very distracting, but so, too, can an office that is completely devoid of ambient sound. When an office is too quiet, every little sound is distracting, and it can make employees anxious and self-conscious. No one wants to be the one to make a sound. Heaven forbid you have to open a granola bar wrapper, or gasp, have a conversation. Silence fosters isolation, quells creativity and over-complicates communication.
If your workplace is suffering from what’s become known as “pin-drop syndrome”, here are a few fast fixes to get the office humming again.
Turn on the TV
This is probably the most controversial of all the solutions here, since TV can often be more distracting than total silence, but with the right programming selection and the proper volume, some offices actually benefit from a wall mounted flat screen TV. When choosing a channel, make sure to avoid shows with loud applause, laugh tracks and constantly changing sound levels. Instead, opt for news programming, such as CNN and Fox News, or try gardening and cooking shows.
Let the Music Play
Music is a simple way to break up the silence. However, getting an office of people to agree on a genre or station presents a few challenges. Regardless of musical tastes, lyrics tend to be the most distracting, which is why soft jazz, light classical, or instrumental music is the preferred choice for most offices. Rather than simply playing the music through a computer, invest in an office PA system, or quality speakers that can be used with an iPod or a music streaming website.
Open a Door or Window
If you are able to open your office windows or doors, outside sounds are sometimes enough to disrupt the interior silence. The hub-bub of traffic, rustling leaves or the sing-song of birds can create a natural soundtrack for your day. Bear in mind that this solution won’t work in areas that experience extreme temperature shifts or air pollution, and it can wreak havoc on allergy sufferers, but it’s often an adequate solution for home offices.
Buy a Fan
The basic repetitive sounds of a fan, known as white noise, are able to drown out the quiet, while masking other noises. Unlike a TV program or music, the ambient whir of a fan simply passes through our consciousness without being disruptive. The key, of course, is to find a fan that actually makes noise, so stay away from models that claim to be quiet. If fluttering papers and wind-blown employees are a concern, consider pointing the fan into a corner, or away from desks and people.
Install a Water Feature
An indoor water feature has the same effect as a fan, but because it also creates a relaxing, soothing atmosphere, it is considered pink noise, as opposed to white. A fish tank’s water pump, for example, produces a soft calming drone, and bubble stones can be added to the pump via a small tube to replicate the sound of raindrops. If feeding the fish is too much trouble, a wall water feature or tabletop water fountains are equally effective alternatives to introduce pink noise.
Invest in a White Noise Machine
White noise machines (or more aptly named, pink noise machines) allow you to achieve all of the above sounds, and many more, with a device that’s roughly the size of an alarm clock. Choose from water sounds, nature sounds, a fan, wind chimes and many more, depending on the device. Some incorporate soothing music, like you might experience at a spa, or replicate the hum of a coffee shop or restaurant. For a large space, noise generator or soundscape websites, played via a PA system or a mobile device connected to high-quality speakers, will offer better coverage.
A Happier, Healthier, More Productive Office
With a couple of small changes, your office can be a happier, healthier, more productive place for you and your colleagues. Looking for more ideas to better your workplace? Check out these top stories: