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Making Music Work at Work

There is no easy solution to developing a productive playlist for two or more people. Like all good work procedures and strategies, it takes time and it starts with being proactive instead of reactive. Take the time to identify the diverse needs and cultures of the group you belong to. Here are four suggested rules that are helpful when selecting music for your group:

a. discuss the benefits of playing music with your specific group

b. organize a forum where everyone can discuss their list of preferences

c. identify a compilation of benign music

d. set guidelines around when the music will be played

The benefits of playing music at work are numerous but they are different for everyone. For the employer, it may be boosting efficiency, expediting projects, and working with greater enthusiasm. For the staff member, it may be sparking creativity or help for working through a barrier in a project. For others it may be feeling better connected to others. Keep in mind that not everyone feels more productive, creative, or inspired when listening to music. Instead, they may feel distracted, stalled, or annoyed. This is the primary reason why it is important to start with honest discussion that includes all team members.

Preferences are important in assessing major triggers. I learned from one staff member that her boyfriend swears by heavy metal when he’s racing to meet a deadline. On the other hand, she needs to crank out the show tunes when she wants to lose herself in her work. Clearly, everyone has different preferences when listening to music at work. When you meet with your group of two or more, start by making a list of all the music that everyone feels would suit the environment of their shared space. This request moves music from the realm of personal preferences to that of the larger group experience. For the employer or manager, this exercise can reveal the staff’s perception of company culture and working environment.

Remember to not only address artists but also genres that suit the majority of the people. This includes music styles such as jazz, rock, blues, and classical. You can then get more specific. Once you have a board full of music that includes everyone’s point of view you are ready to move on to the next stage.

In my experience there are certain music selections that tend to fall in the range of “benign music,” ones that invokes the response of, “Oh that’s an okay song” rather than “Oh I can’t stand that group.” Playing through the entire album of Supertramp may not be for everyone (it certainly isn’t for me, obviously!)

Review your long list of music, including artists and genres, and work as a team to identify the oh-that’s-okay “benign music.” Setting guidelines of when music is played can be the most important part of the entire process, especially for those who work best in silence. There are many options of when but the most important part is that everyone agrees to the use of music in your environment.

Here are some suggestions for when:

  • for the duration of everyone’s set lunch time i.e. 11:30 a.m.
  • to 1:30 p.m. to add a social component to the lunch
  • the last hour of each day to pick up the mood and to signal the end of a successful day, thus promoting a boost in enthusiasm and a feeling of relaxation prior to going home.
  • To celebrate various occasions. For example, for one hour on the day of someone’s birthday, allow the birthday person or the co-workers to choose the playlist representing the birthday person.
  • Play music throughout the day at a low volume with an increase in volume during brain-storming sessions
  • Use silence throughout the day and allow individuals to use their own headsets for the music that makes them feel most vibrant at work
  • during a presentation at a time when you want to capture a specific mood or give a big launch to a new product or idea

Keep in mind that if your workplace chooses to go the route of using your own playlists throughout the office instead of just listening to the radio, you will need to purchase a broadcast license agreement for background music. The small cost of this service gives our favourite composers and songwriters the royalties they are entitled to receive.

When new people start working with your company your playlist may need to be tweaked, but perhaps not as much as you think. People you hire will most likely be of a similar demographic and background of your other staff. What may need to happen is a bi-annual shake up—adding new selections to charge up the list. This could be something the entire team looks forward to working on together as a team-building exercise.

Take time to review the benefits, identify your team’s preferences, find the music that suits your environment, and administer at the best times throughout the day. Fortunately for me, I do all my administrative work from a private office so I don’t have to worry about disturbing cubicle mates when I want to sing along to the cast of Glee. The most important part about music with others is to respect one another’s choices and music needs.

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