Can I wear headphones when we get back to the office?

Air guitar may be perceived as antisocial

Whether it’s to drown out the sound of children fighting or a way to aid concentration when working from home, many of us will have got used to wearing headphones at our desks during lockdown.

But what happens when we (gradually) return to offices? Will it still be acceptable to tune out colleagues with huge noise-cancellers or barely-there ear-pods? Music licensing company PPL PRS has come up with some thoughts on how to navigate headphone etiquette at work.

Music aids productivity

For some workers, music can help them stay on task, particularly if it’s something they’re familiar with.

It’s not always suitable to share across an office music system as not everyone will share their taste, so employees should explain to others that they want to stay ‘in the zone’ and get something done, and they’re not judging others’ conversations or distractions.

Music can also help employees eliminate stress by placing them in a good frame of mind, helping them to focus on important tasks. Wearing headphones can also be a useful signal that someone has a big deadline and engaging in office conversation isn’t practical right now.

Isn’t it antisocial?

PPL PRS reminds us that some colleagues may see wearing headphones in the office as antisocial or unprofessional.

If they’re discussing a work matter, for example, it may be frustrating for them if certain employees never offer ideas or opinions because they’re ‘shut away’ with their music or podcast.

One way to avoid this perception is for employees to keep music at low volume or only listen with one earphone, rather than having colleagues waving and shouting everytime they want to get that person’s attention.

What can be antisocial is if the music is so loud that those around it can still hear a tinny noise or even sing along with the tunes. Has everyone else in the office started doing the YMCA? Might be time to turn down the volume.

Working as a team

It should go without saying that group work should mean all employees give their full attention rather than keeping one ear on their playlist. One idea might be to play music aloud so the whole team can hear – certain types of music have been shown to aid productivity more than others. A ‘focus’ playlist could be helpful for everyone involved, says PPL PRS.

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