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The sounds of the office

Sep 21, 2020

Staff everywhere have traded the office for home working in recent months, and as the world continues to adapt, working from home is becoming a more viable future for many businesses. Yet for many, this permanent change isn’t entirely welcome. Facebook announced preparations to make working from home a permanent fixture for 50% of their staff by 2030, but found that around only one in five actually felt enthusiastic about the prospect. There’s many aspects of the working environment to be missed, but it seems that one of the most significant, is it’s unique sound. 

We may not have paid much attention to the quiet backing track of subdued chatter, clinking spoons and keyboard tapping in the past, but as the months go by and most of us come to terms with our new circumstances, there’s something to be said about the sound of the office.

Advertising agency Familjen STHLM recently partnered with Red Pipe Studios to recreate these very sounds while strict work-from-home policies were implemented in Sweden. The end result was Sound of Colleagues; a webpage that allows users to enjoy the familiarity of telephone calls, coffee machines and even the occasional office dog bark – and after accumulating more than half a million hits, the comical project ended up confirming something important: that audio is, at very least, a part of the ‘something’ missing from WFH. 

To fill this gap in a less artificial way, several companies have been working on developing new audio applications that bring the social elements of the office home. In recent months, voice platform WaterCooler has become a desirable feature for people that are looking to ‘replicate the chance encounters that naturally occur in a physical office’. Their refreshing approach encourages employees to talk about totally non-work-related topics, nurturing a casual environment where its users can establish more personal connections while working remotely.

Voiceroom is one of the latest platforms to have emerged in this market, and unlike your average live-conversation app, this one is dedicated to recreating kitchen-table discussions digitally. Large groups can run this program in the background and enjoy a conversation that follows the course of a more natural exchange; breaking off into side-chats the same way you would in real life, while voices get louder and softer as you virtually move around the room.

Yac is yet another office tool promoting the power of human connection, but this time with the promise of improved productivity. Yac claims it can save companies up to 23-hours a week by replacing emails with audio messages – a switch that will minimise time spent typing, and simultaneously allow for a more personal means of communication… all without the need for disruptive video calls.  

Throughout history, sound has been intertwined with working culture – and music is one of the most obvious examples of this.
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The idea that music influences our mood is the reason we’re surrounded by it, whether we’re sat in the office or shopping at  a supermarket – and this has been reinforced more recently by the demand for playlists that promise to improve productivity.  But these songs that soundtrack everyday life aren’t chosen on a whim; companies often hire specialists to consider everything from demographics to the time of day before they hit play, all to make sure the mood they’re creating has a positive impact  on consumer and employee behaviour.

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