Open offices are all the rage — including rage over noise levels.
If I lived in the Stone Age, I’d be an expert at hearing the slightest twig snap and alerting the squad of danger. But, in today’s day and age, this supersonic hearing means I am easily distracted and annoyed, especially in an open office environment. And these sentiments are normal, according to research by the University of Sydney. Fortunately, the solution to noise is more noise. White noise and its siblings pink and brown can help mask sounds and increase concentration.
How does white noise and sound masking work?
Hearing a sudden noise amidst silence jolts us. But in a noisy environment, like a bar, it’s often hard to hear the person sitting only a few feet away. In the office, a noise always pulls us out from the focus that a low sound environment brings. Luckily for us, the bad guy noises have some enemies that go by the name of white, pink, and brown.
Three of the colors of noise – white, pink, brown – work to muffle the jarring changes in noise by giving our ears and brain a continuous background sound. The differences between the three main colors lie in the combinations of the frequencies. The combinations create different sonic effects when our brain processes them.
What exactly is white noise?
Let’s get tech-ni-cal, tech-ni-cal.
- White noise is the character that’s confident and composed. It is a signal with the even combination of all frequencies. We hear white noise as slightly higher pitched because of the way our brain processes it. White noise is equivalent to an unused radio frequency or TV channel.
- Pink noise is the guy that’s soft-spoken and relaxed. It differs from white noise because it has fewer high frequencies in its combination. Pink noise has a softer, more soothing hum because our brain processes it more evenly. Pink noise is equivalent to a soft rainfall or light wind. Sound experts state that pink noise is better for concentration and memory, especially if used while sleeping.
- Brown noise is the dude that’s zen and tranquil. It has the lowest volume of high frequencies in its mix. Brown noise has a low roar because our brain hears lower frequencies more intensely. Brown noise is equivalent to a heavier waterfall or distant traffic.
This article by The Atlantic summarizes the colors well and includes audio examples.
What type of white noise should I get for my office?
Well, what’s your favorite color?
The right color of noise for your office environment depends on the level and type of sound disturbances as well as the type of work you are doing. You could install different noise colors in different areas of the office. Employees may also have specific preferences. In certain cases, you may want to test and learn a few scenarios.
We took a crack at recommending a color of noise for different sound environments:
- Light conversational noise = pink noise
- Heavy hustle and bustle noise = white noise
- Low rumbling noise = brown noise
How do I install white noise in the office?
For smaller companies, there are a few DIY solutions out there. For larger companies, we recommend sourcing a vendor. Here at Robin, we love having our Sonos speakers around the office and use them to distribute white noise on days when there’s a full house.
The world is full of beautiful noises. The crunch of your coworker’s potato chips and the retelling of his rowdy weekend are not two of them. And as the world moves towards fewer walls and more collaborative spaces, this is going to be the sort of advice you’re going to want to listen to.*
If you have Robin in your office, you could always instantly grab an available conference room to escape the noisy chaos of the office. If you don’t have Robin, get a demo.