Working in a deadly silent office space can be pretty miserable. The constant “tap tap tap” of fingers on keyboards is enough to drive anyone mad, and the sound of the coffee grinder or even a loud phone conversation can be seriously distracting.
Getting some music going in the workplace is a great way to pump up productivity, boost morale, and help your team focus on the job at hand. It’s pretty cost-effective these days too; it doesn’t take much to buy a small Bluetooth speaker and connect a spare mobile phone running Spotify.
As people, we love music because of how it affects our moods – and we tend to dislike work for the same reason. Work can dampen our spirits, can make us feel vulnerable, unappreciated, or bored, and can make the day drag on. But why can’t we have the best of both worlds?
For decades now, studies have provided the case for music in the workplace, highlighting its mostly positive relationship to productivity. Workers who incorporate music into their workplace tend to be more passionate about their work and notice their shifts go by a bit smoother. This is because music isn’t a temporary distraction from the “nine-to-five” blues; rather, music can enhance our work productivity and experiences by transforming the workplace into a space where workers are most encouraged to accomplish their tasks.
But it’s not always as simple as just pressing play. There are some important things to consider when and where music belongs in the workplace.
There’s a time and a place for music at work: Some environments make it simply unsafe or unprofessional to play music, namely when operating dangerous machinery or when dealing directly with customers or personnel. Get real about what kind of job you have and how much of your aural attention is already divvied up – and remember you can’t listen to music all the time; you wouldn’t appreciate it as much anyways. You simply need time dedicated to silence, especially for the more complex tasks.
Listening to music demands multi-tasking. There’s no easy way around it. No matter how good you think you are at multi-tasking, there’s inevitably a tradeoff between the sounds you take in and the work you put out because the brain can only expend so many resources.
Further, the brain automatically latches on to certain aural components such as lyrics, changes in a melody, or even memories attached to the piece – making some music more distracting than others. Make sure your task (preferably something that does not include reading, memorizing, writing, or speaking) allows for the kind of multitasking that comes with listening to music.
That said, in many cases playing some subtle, quiet music can create an ambient background that doesn’t distract workers from their tasks, but still contributes toward a pleasant work environment.
Part of workplace productivity includes a worker’s individual confidence: Each job requires a certain amount, and sometimes it’s up to the worker to take that confidence to the next level. Hard tasks, stress, and nerves are inevitable, so what can be done? Before going into work, try getting pumped up.
Getting pumped before work is a great way to be proactive and protective of your good energy. Any negative energy – including irritation, restlessness, and discontentedness – is like a giant dam, blocking the natural flow of self-confidence and looming over our workday before it even begins. Unchecked, negative energy stifles productivity; but thankfully, music can help us beat the bad vibes to the punch – transforming our anxieties into positive energy by the flip of a neural switch.
Voila! Music puts you in a better mood, makes you feel energized and organized, and leaves you feeling more confident to deal with any big tasks that may come. It gives us that extra boost of self-confidence when we need it the most when our jobs most heavily rely on us to do good work. So, for the sake of yourself and your workplace, listen to music you like in preparation for a big task or a big day. You’ll feel confident you can handle anything – and that’s half the battle.
It can be hard to focus at work for various reasons – but one of the leading causes of workplace distractions is background noise. Whether it be office chatter or midday traffic, an unfocused worker is an unproductive worker in need of an aural remedy. It may seem strange, but music can help us focus on our work by blocking out those untimely distractions.
Depending on the layout of your workspace, you may not have much, if any, control over your aural environment. This can hurt us more than we may think or know. Whereas office cubicles offer some protection to noise, open office layouts can be an auditory nightmare. Headphones can help us feel like we are in our own world, which can, in turn, restore that sense of privacy and control over our aural environments while heightening our individuality, determination, and resourcefulness.
Make sure that if you do use headphones, they are at an appropriate volume – just loud enough to overcome the background but not loud enough to block out the sound of your own inner voice. After all, you need to focus. But follow common sense headphone practices and you will have redefined your focus and reclaimed your workspace.
If you’re responsible for a whole team of people, chances are you’ve seen individuals at times with a set of headphones. Though this might be fantastic for their own individual concentration and productivity, it inevitably isolates them from the rest of their work crew. This can, in some workplaces, be a safety hazard in itself, but even if not, it isn’t great for workplace morale and for creating relationships between employees.
Implementing a communal music source in the workplace or office can stop people from plugging in and isolating for the rest of the team.
Say you’re ready to listen to music at work but you aren’t sure what you should listen to. Consider that some music may be more work-appropriate than others for reasons other than explicit content. Curating a specific playlist for work can cut down on any unnecessary time spent shuffling through songs that you dislike or may distract you.
Most of the evidence suggests that instrumental music is ideal for work for reasons already established: words are too distracting. Worth noting is how songs that are highly repetitive and predictable give our brains something simple to latch on to, which is good because it means there is more mental processing power to put towards our work. Video game music, ambient and lo-fi hip-hop beats are popular examples of this – but spend enough time and you will find instrumental bliss in your genre of choice.
If you can’t get into instrumental music, try listening to music in a language you don’t understand – it can be surprisingly relaxing and nonconsequential as far as your brain’s processing power is concerned. Or try perusing through the many available online playlists of white noise, rainfall, or whale songs. Find the music that works for you and don’t worry about what other people think about all the weird animal noises.
If you’re going to be playing music out loud for everyone to hear, consider that everyone has different music tastes. You might get around this by creating a workplace playlist that everyone can add to, or by deciding on a type of music that everyone is happy with.