Data & Tech

Like it or not, your office might have its own sound one day

Marketing Brew spoke with two companies that are crafting “sonic ambiances” for office spaces.
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photo: Getty Images

· 5 min read

When—or if—you return to the office, you might notice something different in the entryway, kitchen, or throughout your workspace: carefully curated sound.

Maybe there’ll be an energizing soundscape playing in the parking lot to wake you up when you arrive in the morning, or swelling around your desk in the afternoon as you fight the post-lunch slump. Collaborative spaces could be filled with quieter, relaxing sounds that inspire focus and productivity. Music meant for unwinding may filter through speakers at the end of the day to let you know when it’s time to wrap up.

Many employees in corporate America have spent almost two years working from home, growing accustomed to the sounds of children, roommates, pets, and more while they work. Now, as some companies consider reopening strategies, a silent office could end up feeling like a thing of the past.

Made Music Studio, a sonic branding agency that creates signature sounds for brands—like HBO’s movie-presentation audio logo and AT&T’s four-note jingle—is betting that will be the case.

It’s working with Spatial—a software company that specializes in tech and powers what it describes as “immersive audio experiences” for retail spaces, museums, theme parks, and the like—to develop a series of sounds with corporate settings in mind, allowing businesses to experiment with audio as they try to lure employees back to the office.

Getting employees back to IRL work is more important for some companies than others, according to Calin Pacurariu, the cofounder and CEO of Spatial.

“Employers that are in very high-growth, rapid-change industries with a lot of potential competition realize that if their teams are not together, they’re going to lose out,” he told Marketing Brew. “So this is not just about the employees’ benefit—which it is—but it’s for the corporate survival, quite frankly.”

Soundtrack to my life work

Last fall, Made Music Studio and Spatial debuted three sounds inspired by the four elements to tease the concept to potential clients. Companies that purchase the software and “sonic ambiances” can create more bespoke experiences beyond the three initial sounds.

The “welcome ambiance,” designed for use in lobbies and entryways, is meant to inspire a feeling of warmth, while “focus ambience” aims to reduce distractions in coworking areas. An “energizing ambiance” was designed for high-traffic spaces, like hallways, to create a sense of “optimism and motivation,” according to the companies.

For large offices, leaders can commission more customized soundscapes to fill different spaces, according to Alex Coutts, SVP, head of experience at Made Music Studio.

“We want to make sure that we’re really scoring each and every room and space so it is either focused on a specific function, or gives workers the personalization they want,” he said.

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Made Music Studio and Spatial won’t name clients yet, Pacurariu said, since the offering is still new.

For some companies, the goal is to use audio to counteract the anxiety that some people may feel entering public spaces, especially ones they’re unfamiliar with, Coutts said. This strategy—using audio to create a sense of calm—isn’t necessarily new, it just isn’t usually applied to offices.

Colleen Fahey, US managing director for the sonic branding and sound production agency Sixième Son, said she’s done similar work for an airline client, creating specific music to be played while travelers board and deplane. Retailers, too, pay close attention to their audio choices.

One strategy, called zoning, plays different sounds in different parts of a store, much like how Made Music Studios’ three soundscapes are each meant for different parts of an office. The key is to have the sound complement the product or the activity associated with the space, Fahey said.

“People respond to coherency,” she said. “They just feel better when things seem to match.”

Make some noise

Speaking of audio, voice assistants might also become more common in offices, according to Emily Binder, chief strategist and voice marketing lead at voice consultancy Beetle Moment Marketing. For instance, custom Amazon Alexa could allow employees to access information such as company calendars, she explained.

“The business-to-business applications of voice commands are going to be so life-changing for people,” Fahey added. “Once it gets unconfusing—because we’re just so early in the life of voice—it’ll be like every person has an assistant who can make a lunch reservation for them.”

That said, companies should be careful to avoid missteps in their use of audio. Binder said she sees sensory overload as a potential issue, one that corporate America has been known to make in the past. (Can anyone else still smell an Abercrombie & Fitch store?)

“We do this in advertising with visuals,” Binder said. “Don’t do this with sounds, too, because [people are] so sensitive to sound. The whole point is to evoke a feeling.”

She suggested running focus groups before widely implementing office audio, while Fahey recommended avoiding heavy percussion—and changing audio at least once a quarter so no one gets sick of it.

Across the industry, many sonic branding experts think simplicity and subtlety are key.

“There’s a kind of a sonic soundscape or an ambiance that you could do in an office that doesn't have to be interruptive or even really noticeable,” Binder said. “It can really blend into the background, just like the air.”

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