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Can background noise actually help you get work done?

As many people transitioned from working in an office to working from home, they had to get used to being in a very different auditory environment. If you’re lucky enough to have a private office, you have some control over the noises around you, but most people who worked in offices had to be content with the chatter of other conversations, and the sounds of copiers, phones, and a variety of halfalogs (the technical name for hearing half of a phone conversation).

Starting last March, remote employees had to adjust to a different environment altogether. Plenty found themselves in a more chaotic situation than they were used to, sharing close quarters with roommates, pets, partners, and/or children. But others found themselves working all alone where their surroundings were almost too quiet. Without the ability to easily escape to a coffee shop, library, or coworking space, many remote workers are stuck in their highly specific auditory surroundings.

While stuck working at your kitchen table or home office, you may have asked yourself: Is there an optimal level of background noise to surround yourself with when you’re trying to get stuff done?

First off, not all background noise is created the same. There are certain kinds of noises that are particularly distracting when you’re trying to get work done. The most distracting noises are high-priority sounds. Loud sirens, for example, are designed to distract you from anything else. In the work-from-home environment, these high-priority noises may include a crying child, a loud barking dog, or your roommate calling your name. The priority you give to hearing your name has been called the “cocktail party effect,” because of the experience many people have had of suddenly hearing their name spoken by someone else in a crowded room of conversations.

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