In our experiences, we tend to focus on looks before sound. We ask, Have you seen the new Stars Wars? – but the movie theatre uses dozens of speakers to immerse us in the environment of a single projected image. Similarly, articles focus on visual aspects of an office: should there be many desks or no walls or lots of windows? We overlook what an office should sound like.
In my office, people complain about the environment because of the background noise. It can be hard to concentrate with so much going on. Loud, sharp noises are disruptive. However, I am not arguing for silence, which can be creepy and make interfering noises even more disruptive. I’m on the side of a particular kind of noise: music. There is a growing body of science on the benefits of music and work. Music is intrinsic to humanity and a part of every known culture throughout history.
Sound and sight are integral to our primitive self-defence and hunting systems. Although it’s our animalistic tendency to emphasize vision, sound is equally as important when indicating environmental changes that need our attention. The sharp unexpected noise is distracting because our survival instinct tells us to pay attention to it.
I listen to music at work as much as I can. A repeated bass line, drum beat, or chord progression eliminates the sharp unexpected noise. The more familiar the better, because my brain anticipates what’s next, knows the environment is safe and that nothing needs further attention. My noise-isolating earbuds block out all other sounds. It simplifies my hearing sense so I can focus on what I am seeing. Music becomes like silence. Furthermore, my pupils dilate and my heart rate rises because music makes me happy, making me more attentive to what I am seeing.
Not only can music help us create personal space, it can help with creativity. Sound allows us to communicate ideas, feelings and emotions, that words can’t always translate. It provides an object on which we can project our own ideas, feelings and emotions, like a dictionary of the senses. This forces contemplation as we try to understand how the sound makes us feel. In a sense, music connects the self to the whole.
Music can also be an important tool to communicate your association’s message. Video is a great tool because it combines thepower of sound and visuals. Daily listening can help you get a feel for blending the emotions of music with your own message. Music has the power to unite us and this blending may even make the music be your message.
People have one of three preferences: silence, office sounds or music. Only you can figure out what you need and how to attain it.
I can personally recommend some genres for experimentation – top 40,rap, 70’s funk, 80’s hair metal, punk, or my current favourite Canadian rock song – and provide tips on how to create your ideal sound environment, below.
For music lovers:
- Be mindful of your space and colleagues by only blaring music when alone.
- Use closed back headphones or earbuds with less noise leak.
- Keep volume and duration in check to avoid hearing damage.
- Design and build soundproof work spaces.
For silence seekers:
- Be mindful of how your office space creates and uses silence.
- Concert earplugs will reduce the volume but keep the clarity.
- Noise cancelling or noise isolation headphones or earbuds can be used even when not listening to music.
- Design rooms for silence and use material that will dampen rather than reflect sound.
- Noise masking can work for certain auditory ranges.