Everywhere you go, people have their earphones in, listening to their favourite music, isolated from the world around them. But could this music-centric culture be a good thing when it comes to increasing workplace productivity?
In a restaurant in Los Angeles, you’ll see workers in a café on their lunch break, earbuds in, zoning out, listening to music, while in New Orleans, jazz bands regularly march through historic Jackson Square as tourists join in the procession. Back home, buskers line vibrant Swanston Street in Melbourne. With music providing the soundtrack to our lives, there must be ways it can benefit the workplace.
It’s been discovered that music can help with many things – including reducing pain and helping you relax – but music also increases our capacity to recall data and trigger memories, even if it’s played in the background, as a 2007 Standford University study confirmed – music stimulated the part of the brain associated with attention, which is great in a working environment.
Backing up this science in 2011, in a Psychology of Music study, data from 56 software designers from four different Canadian companies was collected over five weeks (in the designers’ own work environments). The study found that quality of work was lowest with no music, while time on task was longest when music was removed. Listening to music also elevated workers’ moods and enhanced their design perception.
Listen to the music
Music with lyrics isn’t the best for word-related tasks. For these, experts suggest lyric-free tunes or songs with lyrics in another language – or a pseudo language, like hopelandic used by Icelandic band Sigur Ros – to increase creativity (and to stop you writing out the lyrics to the song). Recent research has also indicated that playing tracks with a heavy bassline – try Queen’s We Will Rock You – has been known to incite power and confidence.
On the flip side, a Journal of Consumer Research study found that a high level of noise (85 decibels) reduces information processing and impairs creativity, but if you lower the ambient noise to 70 decibels, it enhances performance on creative tasks. It’s like walking a very fine guitar string to strike the right balance (or chord) to ensure music is not a distraction.
Hey, big spender
Retailers can also tap into the evocative nature of music that could influence customers’ willingness to part with their cash. The choice of music should reflect the store’s overall brand image, but also can be used to target buyers. That’s why you’ll see clothing stores aimed at teen girls playing music that makes it seem like a nightclub – it’s all part of setting the scene.
Volume, tempo and key have also been found to affect consumers’ spending. A study from the European Journal of Scientific Research found that music played at a loud volume gets people to move through the store quicker, whereas slower and quieter music makes them stay longer.
Here, Chemist Warehouse has gone one step further with its own station – CW Remix – on digital radio (peppered with its own ads, of course). Its playlist may have been curated by a company similar to US-based Mood Media, which tailors playlists for more than 500,000 business locations throughout the world. This month, Mood announced it will start geo-fencing consumers, so if they know a customer is in store, they can tailor offers to them via their smartphone.
It appears music can contribute to productivity and workplace happiness, but despite all the research, the affect music has on you and your performance seems to only work if you’re willing to embrace it. So, as the famous (misquoted) line from Casablanca goes: “Play it again, Sam.”
Bring music into the office
1. Explore the digital options
iTunes, Spotify, Last.fm, Soundcloud and even YouTube are all streaming players that allow you to discover new music, listen to your favourite tracks and tailor playlists and suggest tunes based on your current song library and music tastes. Cloud services – such as iCloud – allow you to share tracks with fellow co-workers. Try sound systems like JBL’s powerful wireless speakers or the Pill 2.0 from Beats by Dre – which is small and good-looking, and also works via a Bluetooth connections.
2. Navigate the politics
Conduct a survey of music preferences first before settling on a station or playlist, and when there’s need for silence around certain areas, opt for a pair of headphones.
3. Personal listening
According to Commercial Radio Australia report, digital radio figures are at a five-year high. For around $60, you can purchase a good digital radio. Pure has a great range with crisp sound quality, including funky retro designs and internet radio streaming capabilities for the entire office.
For your own listening, noise-cancelling headphones will help you zone out to any distractions. Check out the QuietComfort range by Bose, which start at around $300. Just be mindful with these headphones, you may not hear your co-workers trying to get your attention.
A great way to increase your productivity is to make a playlist with songs catered to your needs. Try bass-heavy tracks (give 50 Cent’s In Da Club a spin) before you walk into that important meeting, or a classical symphony before you have to tackle a creative task.
This article, by Angela Allan of Mads Buzz, originally appeared in Telstra Smarter.