About 15 years ago I worked in an office with a white noise generator. It kept an otherwise loud environment filled with many lively coversations to a dull roar. It worked rather well, to a point. Pretty quickly your brain tunes out the white noise, it just becomes part of the environment and makes it easier to concentrate on your work. I’m sure some noise generators are better than others.
However, a white noise generator can also be very irritating for some people. I’ve read that it can possibly even increase your stress level rather than do what it is supposed to do which is to provide a peaceful and seemingly quiet work space.
My current office has a rather loud ventilation system that blocks out quite a bit of the distracting conversations in the adjacent cubicles. When the fans turn off, there’s a sudden deafening silence. It feels strange without the white noise of the ventilation system. It turns off so rarely, otherwise it runs continuously all day, every day, winter or summer. Without the vents on, everything and everyone seems so much louder, so much more noticeable.
If I had to block out the surrounding office noise by wearing headphones, I would not choose to listen to most of the ‘ambient’ noise generator apps that I’ve tried. There are some exceptions of course, but typically for me, 10 to 15 minutes is all I can take of ambient music, after that my skin starts to crawl. I find that listening to music with vocals can be equally distracting. If I’m reading or otherwise trying to concentrate, Jazz or Classical music would be a good choice. I tested my album to see if I can actually work while listening to it. I have to say it really depends on what I’m working on. If it’s a mostly visual task like working with Photoshop then it passes the test quite nicely. Ultimately, not having to wear headphones to block out the noise at work would be best.
In my opinion, the best background noise for work would be the natural sounds you hear sitting in the woods among the trees, the birds and the insects. Far away from the fax machine, the paper shredder and the sound of the ventilation system. Somehow, I don’t think listening to a recording of ‘sounds of the woods’ will help my work environment. If only we could open a window in our office. Oh imagine the nuisance of that! There would be no end to it, some of us would want the window to always be open, others for it to always be shut.
So it goes.