Some yearn for music to aid creativity when others need complete silence. Certain companies blast music through their office while many have a ban on earphones.
Music in the workplace, it’s a hotly debated topic. Should your company embrace it?
Office music has gone from background
The presence of music in offices has a longer history than you might expect. Department stores and office buildings introduced background sound in workspaces and elevators in the 1920s.
While there are office playlists abound on the ubiquitous cloud-based music player Spotify, the first company to create pre-packaged sets of music for offices was born in the 1940s. This came in the form of a wireless radio called Muzak, and the playlists were called “Stimulus Progression”.
Nowadays, Muzak’s heirs aren’t just providing ambience. Music has become an important part of defining brands and their work ethic. For example, many companies are now embracing music as part of their brand, such as high street clothing retailers blasting music in a club-like manner.
In busy capitals like London, premium prices for office space has produced a huge market for the young, entrepreneurial and cutting edge startups seeking flexible office space. Young tech industry targeted spaces are often branded, playing music to recreate that cool coffee shop casual vibe. But rather than attempting to give these companies a soundtrack, serviced-office providing giants like i2 Office and Regus provide professional unbranded offices that are music-free.
This is important to think about when looking for flexible office space as such spaces may not reflect your brand aptly.
Music at 70 decibels boosts creativity
Studies have shown that music in the workplace has a generally positive effect on employees. It helps with creativity, as well as keeping the employees’ mood elevated.
A study by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign showed that music is especially beneficial for people working creatively. The researchers had four groups of people complete a Remote Associates Test, which measures creative thinking. Each group had a different level of background noise while working (complete silence, 50, 70 and 80 decibels).
The study found that the 70 decibel group had a significantly better score than the other three. This is because background noise creates a mild distraction and keeps the brain active, but not so much that it takes away from the task at hand. This mid-area is where the best creative work happens.
Music can help create a quieter workspace and improve mood
People going to meetings, colleagues chatting or street noise can add up to become a nuisance for other employees. Music helps drown sounds and create a more uniform background noise, helping office workers focus.
In addition, listening to music activates the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes people feel rewarded; this is the same effect obtained eating a piece of cake. A study from 2005 found that music helps lower stress levels, allowing employees to stay more focussed and make better decisions.
But there are downsides to office music
Seeing the negatives to playing music at work is easy: not everyone has the same taste, and some prefer working in complete silence because they find music distracting. Headphones, on the other hand, may isolate workers and reduce the opportunities to network within the office.
A study showing that music improves mood also stated that, on the downside, employees working on basic computer tasks were much more productive when working in silence.
Music in the office depends on what you do
Deciding to play music in the office comes down to what your company does: while creative jobs benefit from a soundtrack, this might have the opposite effect on who is doing a more rigorous task.
Some workplaces may find a solution in giving employees the chance to listen to their music through headphones, but there is no univocal solution. Each business has to evaluate its priorities and how music would work for them.