Before shelter-in-place orders were issued across the country and people started working from home en masse, I used noise-cancelling headphones a lot at the office. Whether to block out colleagues talking about their weekend plans, building construction, or a neighbor’s enthusiastic chewing, I sometimes found myself wishing for a quieter place.
But you know what they say: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. At least that seems to be the case for I Miss the Office, an “office noise generator” that plays all the background noise you used to work with back in ye olde office days. (“Close your eyes and imagine you’re in the office. Beautiful, right?” the website says, encouragingly.) Sounds from a printer, the squeak of an armchair, the glurg of the water cooler; the chatter around said water cooler. Remember those? The difference here is that you have some control over the ambient noise. In fact, you create it by adjusting the tool’s settings.
The site, created by Fred Wordie, Ben Olayinka, and Valentin Cheli of Berlin-based creative agency Kids, shows an open office plan filled with familiar sights: a conference table, meeting rooms, a copier, desks. The default level of sound assumes you share the space with five colleagues: low talking, an A/C unit, intermittent footsteps. You can add more sounds by clicking on various icons around the office or increase the ambient noise level by adding more colleagues.
Of course, these aren’t the calming ocean sounds of your white noise machine, so it’s unlikely to be something you leave on all day. But I Miss the Office is a fun thought experiment and a stark reminder of the contrast between the way we work now and the way we worked just a month ago. All these designers needed was ambient noise to prove the point. And although these sounds can be annoying, “all these noises require input from people, people that are currently missing from our home offices and that’s why its comforting,” explains Cheli.
The site says the tool “provid[es] you with the soothing tones of modern office life to help you focus when working from home.” I wouldn’t have described the sounds of modern office life as “soothing” prior to this WFH experience, but if you’re working with kids around the house, or even alone, the sound of a deskmate tapping at the keyboard might be something you miss after all. Unfortunately, a colleague to share knowing glances with is not included.