Audio Comfort in the Workplace

A couple of suggestions came in regarding topics to cover. Specifically, I got suggestion re: working in environments with tile/hardwood floors vs. carpeting and another about working with music vs. working in a quiet environment. Since they’re both related, I thought I’d cover them in one entry. I presume you folks won’t mind.

Music vs. quiet

This is a personal preference, and your personal responses could vary. Fair enough.

I touched on my favorite types of music a while back. Generally, I can write with some sort of music going, and the bulk of my writing music comprises movie soundtracks (Star Wars and Star Trek being personal favorites). If I’m handling an easy task, like cutting and pasting or formatting a lot of material–something that doesn’t require me to use the language-processing part of my brain–I can listen to music with lyrics. However, I have found that music with lyrics interferes with my ability to write and edit. Opera is an exception in that I don’t understand the words so I’m not trying to process them subconsciously while working.

When I’m under severe deadline stress, even the grand themes of John Williams can interfere with my ability to concentrate. Then I aim for dead silence. Sometimes that means working from home. When I had a full-time job, it meant putting my ear buds in so people would think I was listening to music and leave me alone. Whatever it takes.

Hard vs. carpeted floors

I must admit, this one hadn’t occurred to me much until I worked at Zero Point Frontiers, and the floors were diamond-coated concrete and the walls were some 20 feet (or more) high. Even there, the loudest thing in the room was the air-handling system, not the people walking around. If anything, how heavily people walk (stomp) makes more of an impact on me than their walking surface. However, I still give preference to carpeted environments. Carpets and other soft surfaces absorb sound and so decrease distractions. The music playing on my iTunes usually blocks walking noises quite well.

If I was asked to work in a place with concrete floors, heavy machinery operating, and loud rock music playing in the background, that would probably damage my calm. Fortunately, I have not had to work in that sort of environment. Yet.

In any case, noise levels are important to any workplace. A bigger issue for me is loud talking, which goes back to how my brain processes words. I work with words, and so if I’m trying to write or edit while people are talking loudly around me, I can lose my concentration, and that is a Bad Thing. One thing to consider before you work somewhere is how the office environment operates: is there a lot of ambient noise? Does it sound like a funeral home without the cheerful music? Does it sound like jackhammers are drilling into the walls or Aerosmith is playing a concert next door? Do employees host regular chuckle and jive sessions in the hallways or someone’s cubicle? Does the air conditioner sound like a Pratt & Whitney F100 engine is idling nearby? Does an individual have any control over any of these factors? Are you comfortable with any or all of these circumstances?

Things to think about as you’re choosing or establishing your personal workspace.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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