Is Office Radio Music to HR’s Ears?

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Open office layouts, like them or not, are here to stay.

While there are many benefits to having a shared collaborative environment (frequent communication, more effective use of space, etc.), it’s not all sunshine and roses.

For all their faults, walls, doors and cubicles are excellent sound barriers. They cut out distractions and work to keep your private conversations private. But not all noise is the same. Some sounds — like music — are meant to be shared.

Unfortunately for country music and hip-hop aficionados, not everyone has the same taste in music. When you’re in a closed environment, this doesn’t matter: you can blast Britney Spears all day, and no one will stop you.

But with open office layouts, music can mean the difference between a productive day and a splitting headache. After all, one person’s Pop Trash is another person’s Treasure.

So what’s to be done? Should HR embrace the benefits of the office radio, or toss it like the fax machine?

The sound of music

Work can be boring. It can be mundane, and it can be repetitive. Sometimes it can feel like one day drags on for weeks. All of these are normal, okay things to feel. But they’re also feelings you don’t want your team to experience very often, or they won’t be working for you much longer.

Music is an easy way to keep people stimulated. It’s HR’s job to keep your team engaged, so if music is what it takes, why not embrace it?

Many people swear that music helps them concentrate and keeps them performing at a high level. Whether it’s the beat of the music or a simple white noise effect doesn’t really matter. If it works, it works.

Of course, neither making the day pass faster or helping people concentrate are good reasons for a shared office radio. That takes us to the final, and perhaps most important reason to embrace music. Like so many other things, it’s all about culture.

If you’re at all interested in HR, culture is (or should be) at the core of everything you do. You build a common environment. You built a common brand, a common writing style, and even common out-of-office messages. If you want a common culture, you should create a common soundscape too.

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The please-drown-me of music

On the other hand, many of the problems shared office spaces create are only further exacerbated by an office radio:

  • Trying to have a conversation? Sorry, I can’t hear you over AC/DC.
  • Trying to concentrate? Not possible, The White Stripes are drumming on your brain.
  • Trying to talk on the phone? Yes, that is Beyoncé in the background.

Worse still, office radio suffer from the same problem as many common resources: who’s in charge? Who should make sure it’s still working? Who turns it on and off each day? As you know, “it’s not my job.”

Most importantly though, not everyone likes the same music. It’s not just rude to subject people to music they don’t like: it’s cruel.

The sound of compromise

Before you plug in (or unplug) the nearest radio, get feedback from your team. Make it anonymous for best results.

If most people are interested and there’s no strong opposition, put the radio closest to the most enthusiastic people, keep it at a reasonable volume, and make it clear that anyone can shut it off at any time for any reason.

If someone is strongly opposed, or people don’t really care, consider promoting a common Internet radio station. People can opt-in when the mood suits them, and keep it off the rest of the time.

If it’s a collaborative process, your team might even learn a little bit more about each other. Everyone wins.