As we’re all painfully aware, offices can be incredibly loud. Between the constant drone of conversation and the jarring sounds of printers and paper shredders, it can be difficult to get any work done. Fortunately, white noise has been shown to have some positive effects when used in the workplace. Today, I’ll talk about some of the most notable benefits of working around white noise — as well as some disadvantages.
I’ve written many articles about white noise and its uses. But if you’ve missed them, let’s do a quick white noise crash course before we get into the effects of white noise in the workplace.
White Noise: The Perfect Tool for Focusing at Work?
I’ve always maintained that white noise is a pretty great tool for clearing the mind. It just so happens that clearing the mind can help you do your job better in several different ways. As I’ve mentioned before, white noise can help you sleep and focus on studying or working. It can even block out bass noise, which is a truly impressive feat.
Now, I promised you a short crash course — so let’s start by defining white noise. At this point, too many people take it to mean just any old sound you play while you’re doing something else. In the context of a work environment, someone might say that even the conversations and whirring machines are a type of white noise.
And yes, that is one possible interpretation. Personally, though, I like to keep the confusion at a minimum, so white noise is any mix of sounds that include all frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hertz.
If you’re an audiophile, you’ll know that that doesn’t only include white noise, but other colors as well. Notably, pink and brown noises are also fantastic tools — even better than white noise, in my opinion. But I’m not going to spend too much time explaining the various differences between the colors of noise, as I have another article on the subject.
The Positive Effects of Using White Noise at Work
White noise has many beneficial effects on people, not the least of which is its ability to help us fall asleep. In fact, I’ve even written reviews of white noise machines that can put your kids to sleep. This type of background noise is great for falling and staying asleep, as it’s very efficient at masking other intrusive sounds.
Obviously, people who aren’t getting enough sleep can’t expect to perform well at work. And other than using white noise to fall asleep, you can also use it to improve your productivity.
Whether you’re at work or at home, white noise can improve concentration and your ability to focus. If you have to work in a loud environment, white noise can mask all other sounds. On the other hand, overly quiet environments aren’t very conducive for work either, since the silence amplifies all noises.
Because of these noise filtering properties, you’ll be able to simply concentrate on your task. At the end of the day, isn’t that all we want to be able to do at work?
Improved Memory Function
In addition to improving focus, white noise has also been shown to improve memory function. Actually, I’ve written more about this in my article on the effects white noise has on the brain. In fact, you can also track down the many studies that claim that white noise improves our performance of memory-based tasks.
Studies have also shown that there is a visible, physical difference in the brain when we’re listening to white noise. As I’ve mentioned in the article I linked above, there’s increased connectivity between the regions in the brain that are in charge of attention and the dispersion of dopamine. That means that your brain would be rewarding you just for paying attention and forming new memories. Tell me that’s not something that would come in handy at a business meeting.
White noise machines can also promote creativity. After all, an increase in focus brings about an increase in productivity. In turn, you’re able to brainstorm for ideas more and come up with better solutions to problems.
In my opinion, white noise is the perfect solution to people in all professions. Whether you’re dealing with colors or numbers, you’ll be able to do your best work with some kind of white noise in the background. If you need any product recommendations, you can check out my article on white noise machines for offices.
And if you work in a creative industry, you could also use regular music instead. White noise is just convenient because it doesn’t have lyrics or a melody that could be distracting. However, that’s not to say that it’s all sunshine and rainbows.
The Potential Risks of Using White Noise
Even though it’s widely considered to be a great way to focus, white noise may also come with some drawbacks. So let’s talk about those.
As I’ve mentioned in my article on the effects of white noise on the brain, this sound can also disrupt focus. One of the studies I referenced found that while inattentive students performed tasks better with white noise playing, the sound made it more difficult for attentive students to focus.
In the context of office space, that means that playing white noise out loud may damage the performance of the people who usually don’t have an issue focusing.
If you don’t want your coworkers to resent you, you should be aware of their feelings. It’s best to check in on them before you play white noise to ask for permission. Then, you’ll also want to ask how they’re feeling while the noise is playing.
The reason for doing this is to avoid causing tensions around the office. If the volume of the noise is too high, you may be causing noise-induced anxiety in your coworkers. That wouldn’t be helping anyone.
However, as long as you don’t exceed 85 decibels, you and your coworkers won’t experience this type of stress. In fact, it would be best to keep the noise below 70 decibels, just to be sure.
So Should You Play White Noise in the Workplace?
As you can see, the question above is more difficult to answer than you’d think! On the one hand, there are some real perks to working with white noise on. However, if you don’t want to anger your coworkers, I recommend using earplugs or earbuds.
But then, literally plugging your ears rather than listening to the office chatter could be considered rude too. If you can’t win in this situation, I suggest just doing whatever you feel like doing. Your coworkers should understand the reasons why you want to play white noise in the office. And you could even pose it as an experiment to see if playing white noise would really improve productivity.