I am a researcher within a trading company, and we work altogether in an open space office. Previously I worked in academia, had my own office, which was a great help in focusing. Trading noise is quite distracting, especially on days when just by myself I feel it hard to concentrate. Despite several people mentioning visual distractions, I think for me the main issue is the sound.

  • I tried to use headphones to listen to music while coding/doing math, however that also acts as a distraction to me.
  • I have also tried white/pink/brown noise, but could not leave it on for more then 5 minutes.
  • I tried active noise cancellation headphones, with no music - but the noise reduction they bring is minimal.

The best result I was able to achieve were ear plugs, the ones some people use for sleeping, however this is not very handy. I wondered, whether I can use anything else. Namely, something that does not produce any sound (music/white noise), but isolates from external sounds. Unfortunately, moving to a different room/asking colleagues to be quieter is not an option at all, so the solution should be something that just prevents myself from being distracted by their sound activities.

  • There are lots of things sold as hearing protection which might work; which is best depends on what you feel comfortable wearing and the type of noise
    – keshlam
    Apr 4, 2016 at 14:26
  • @keshlam: can you make some specific suggestions, please? Or perhaps, which google queries to use
    – Ulysses
    Apr 4, 2016 at 14:34
  • 2
  • @DavidK: I read the question you have suggested before posting mine. I think a careful reading of OP indicates that solutions posted there does not apply here, and I specifically mentioned why.
    – Ulysses
    Apr 4, 2016 at 14:55
  • 1
    Some companies just can't seem to be able to figure out that open-plan offices are trendy, but not actually useful. At the end of the day everyone needs a little bit of privacy, and in some fields, peace and quiet. And yet they stick large groups of people in a cavern-like space and wonder why productivity isn't what they'd like it to be, or why people are complaining. It boggles the mind. But of course the bosses typically get their own offices, so I guess it's not really their problem.
    – AndreiROM
    Apr 4, 2016 at 15:22

2 Answers 2


For this exact situation, I have used a combination of earplugs underneath passive noise canceling headphones.

Make sure if you get headphones you get ones that are passive noise canceling. This basically means that they are designed to block or reduce ambient noise. Do not just get consumer headphones. Make sure they are overear and allow you to wear earplugs underneath.

You might even find that hearing protection earmuffs work better. Take a deliberate effort to find ones that actually work. They might not be pretty or the most attractive. But if you do not care about listening to music it would work better.

Something like this:

enter image description here

Then, find some good earplugs. Understand how to put them in, especially if using cheap(er) foam ones. You MUST put them in correctly if you want them to do anything. The difference between putting an earplug in correctly and incorrectly is a huge amount of noise reduction.

This combination is incredibly effective, but only if you put earplugs in correctly and use actual noise reducing headphones.

enter image description here

Most people who put in earplugs do it haphazardly or incorrectly. And most people who get headphones get low quality ones, or ones that don't actually passively reduce noise meaningfully.

  • 1
    +1 Passive noise suppression is the only way to go for open office environments without a well-tuned pink noise system. The mistake folks make is not understanding what active noise cancelling is best at; it's not for quieting conversations or clicky-clacky keyboards. I skip the earplugs because I usually don't get long enough uninterrupted periods to make putting them in repeatedly worthwhile.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 4, 2016 at 17:04
  • Also earplugs/earmuffs don't work well if you happen to suffer from tinnitus, since you now don't have anything to distract you from the ringing in your ears.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 4, 2016 at 18:42

I suggest earmuffs used for hearing protection in very high noise environments. The best have a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of over 30dB. I have not used them for reducing office noise, but I have used these (TR Industrial Schutz ) in high noise industrial environments. They can also be used with earplugs for even further reduction.

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