An office workplace can reveal itself to be full of sounds – printers churning away, co-workers typing at their terminals, the hum of refrigerators, or the idle chatter of the lunchtime water cooler crowd. The presence of personal music in the workplace is also becoming more largely felt and understood. More and more people are showing up to work with headphones in tow, creating a personalized, isolated environment in which to perform their tasks through immersion in a private world of sound. In today’s blog, Merchant Advance Capital looks at the role played by music in the business environment: is it a distraction? A blocker of communication? A tool to improve mental focus, sharpness and morale? A productivity-booster? Or a way to engage with your customers? The debate over music’s effectiveness as a motivator in the workplace is ongoing and subject to extensive research – the question of its effects on productivity, be they positive or negative, and correlations with time, genre, age, job type, and many other factors have been studied exhaustively by everyone from managerial experts to neuroscientists. Opinions and interpretations range widely, and it remains very difficult to say for sure that having personal music in the workplace is a necessarily beneficial or detrimental factor when it comes to raw productivity. However, if you do bring your music to work, keep these guidelines in mind.
Tune In, Don’t Drop Out
Music in the workplace is often used to block out distracting noises and help the listener get into a mental groove while working on particular tasks – particularly, those accomplished through computational, repetitive and logically driven processes. One must, however, be careful not to become so absorbed in the soundtrack of one’s day that normal inter-office communication is disrupted: the last thing you want is to unwittingly miss out on a coworker’s request for your attention. This could constitute a major breach of etiquette, depending on where and with whom you find yourself working – ensure that you understand the communicative needs and policies of your workplace before adding music to the mix. Even once this understanding is established, be sure to keep an awareness of your surroundings – especially when listening on earbuds or noise-cancelling headphones that can further isolate you from the outside world.
Prepare a Playlist
In the age of digital music, we are able to carry a vast collection of songs with us at all times. The impulse to hit “shuffle,” to look back and forth at your songs, pick and choose the next track from your library, and to generally fiddle around with your music player (which may also be your phone, etc.) is a strong one. Don’t let this impulse disrupt your focus. Solve this problem by identifying the kinds of music you enjoy listening to during different parts of your day – an upbeat set of tracks to energize your morning, or a mellow, ambient selection that will help you stay locked in the zone at peak productive hours, for example – and make a predefined playlist or internet-radio stream that you don’t have to mess with or divert your attention to managing for a lengthy period of time. Research shows that even a brief distraction from a productive state – such as taking a look at your phone – may take up to twenty minutes to “recover” from and return to the previous level of focus. Can you afford to lose this momentum?
Make Some Noise
Ears, like any other body part made to do extensive work, can become fatigued. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you don’t need to blast loud music for fatigue and its effects to set in. For some people, relatively low-level auditory stimuli – like the buzzing of overhead fluorescent tube lamps or the hum of background appliances or vehicles – can become quite a strain on the ears and, by extension, the brain. Your blogger, for example, is a sufferer of tinnitus – consistent ringing in the ears that can range from barely noticeable to teeth-clenchingly disruptive. Many people living with tinnitus or who are sensitive to auditory fatigue have adopted noise generators like SimplyNoise – which is also available as a mobile app – to help with their concentration, comfort and daily productivity. A dose of colour noise, set just loud enough to be noticeable but not so loud as to overwhelm your normal hearing, works like a calming massage for your brain. White noise in particular can be a great distraction blocker, as it fills the entire frequency spectrum with a consistent pattern of information – the effect is one of being left alone with your thoughts. It can mask the rumble of cars out on the street, or the subtle hum of an air conditioner. There are other types of noise, distinguished by their frequency content and power density properties, but that’s a lesson in acoustics and physics that this blog is not really prepared to cover: the bottom line is that having a noise source on hand may be a valuable tool to help keep your grey matter in good shape throughout the day.
Play to Your Audience
Many storefront businesses will play music during the day as customers enter and mill about the wares on offer. Background music may play a part in the overall brand presentation of your small business, be it a French pastry shop or a hip, youthful clothing store – each can use music to create a comprehensive sense of aesthetic identity for itself. Knowing your customers’ demographics and selecting the right music may influence their buying decisions and overall impression of your business. This effect may go deeper than just appealing to personal taste: research has shown that music with a slower, more deliberate tempo may entice customers in restaurants to linger longer, where the opposite is true for tunes that put the pedal to the metal. Similarly, the psychoacoustic effect of loud music – of the kind that often blares from businesses seeking to attract high foot traffic – may create a form of sensory overload that can affect self-regulation and correlate to more impulsive decision-making regarding purchases. No matter the application – as a motivator for sales traffic or for improved concentration, as a pick-me-up or a soothing source of relaxation, or as part of the identity of your business, music plays a part in how small businesses work. Examine what works for you and your employees – perhaps a dynamic change of perspective may result.
Do you have a favourite set of office jams, or do you prefer the sound of silence? Tweet us @advancecapital or visit us on Facebook to share your thoughts!