I’ve noticed that a post of mine about open plan offices (see The Promise — and Curse — of Open Offices) has continued to get a lot of traffic, especially the observation

Open office: the larger open space in an office, the more people take sick leave.

But the real headache in open office plans is not headaches, but noise.

I saw a piece in the WSJ that dug into the problems of open office noise, and it offered a solution: try babble noise from mynoise.net, either from the web or the free iPhone app. This works much better than white noise, or noise cancelling headphones.

Babble Noise | Free, Online & Hearing Calibrated

The Babble Noise, without the guests

In open offices, overheard conversations are often cited as the main source of distraction: disregarding human speech is a very difficult task for the human brain, especially when speech is intelligible. One way of reducing the annoyances of intelligible speech is to mask speech using natural noises such as our Rain and Stream Noises, or this babble noise, as further explained.

Babble noise can be used in an office for privacy reasons as well, when calls or conversations need to remain confidential. Private offices often appear to provide privacy but often do not perform well in terms of acoustics. Sound masking between adjacent offices can be used to ensure that confidential conversations remain confidential. Babble noise is considered as one of the best noises for masking speech. Compared to White Noise, babble noise offers a higher efficiency when it comes to camouflaging voice. This means that lower masking levels can be used while ensuring the same privacy.

The site also serves up hundreds of other sounds — rain, wind, cafe restaurant (a lot like babble noise), and ferry boat (one of my favorites) — and once you’ve contributed a few bucks you can twiddle the knobs on the noises, making them your own.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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