It’s an age-old question that can divide an office. Can workplace music increase productivity or does it in fact achieve quite the opposite with its distracting ways, as some colleagues will suggest?
Lucky for us, the clever neuropsychologists over at Mindlab International have done the leg-work for us, with their 2016 research which found nine in ten workers produced more accurate test results when listening to music than when surrounded by silence. That’s pretty conclusive evidence, in my books, that music has a largely positive impact on mental alertness.
So with that burning question out of the way, and if music can have such a powerful influence on productivity and wellbeing, there’s a healthy argument for proactive planning around music in the workplace instead of just letting the team choose tunes on a whim. So what should be considered when choosing a playlist for ‘the many’, in an office environment, to keep the team firing on all cylinders?
All about ambiance
In addition to inspiring productivity, music must create a pleasant atmosphere for employees. It cannot be loud or distracting. For optimum impact, music should be subliminal, you shouldn't really be aware of it.
Taper the tempo
Because oftentimes we are tasked with pleasing the many, you should avoid anything too edgy or beat-driven as a rule. The tempo should be defined by the demographic. A mixed demographic will respond to current hits, classic hits and pop, while radio hits are better suited to a younger demographic. Most workplaces will also generally avoid rap, heavy rock or 50’s and 60’s music.
Opt for a lower tempo in the morning and increase the tempo in the afternoon (to compete with that mid-afternoon slump!), and consider more dance-y vibes on a Friday when the team is gearing up for the weekend.
Ask yourself what the music needs to do in the space: For example, is it to mask noise or confidential conversations? Is it to motivate or energise? Or is it to bring calm or focus? And how does that change over time?
For example, we curate music for financial, health and insurance retailers to mask conversations while allowing for an open plan environment.
Music can also be used in bathrooms for privacy and can generally be played at a higher volume for that purpose.
Familiarity breeds consistency
While you want music that people can relate to, you don't want a situation where people are distracted by all-of-office sing-alongs (as fun as that sounds).
People don't mind current songs being played as much as three times a week, but classic hits need to be given air less frequently.
No matter what you do, it will be impossible to please all people 100% of the time. Thus variety is your friend. Keep your playlists varied and have a few on hand at any time for rotation.
And finally, don’t just concentrate on the work stations. Playing consistent tunes in all areas of the office can keep you in work mode - all. day. long. - even when you have to use the facilities or fancy a tea break.
Raymond Medhurst is the head of playlist curation and a brand music consultant at Mood Media.