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Earbuds and the Office

Posted September 18, 2014 by Carolyn Stroud in On the Ladder

Office space arrangements come in many sizes and shapes these days. Where once there were only grey cubicles and corner offices, there are now shared spaces, open floor plans with breakout areas, cubicles with low walls, and a host of other creative ways of squeezing more productivity out of fewer square feet. Technology will continue to dictate how and where we work, and our interaction with it isn’t always as straightforward as it would initially appear.

No matter the industry you’re in, it’s important to not make the decision to wear earbuds lightly. Similar to how we dress or our posture, whether or not we choose to tune out the din of our coworkers is a reflection on us personally and how we do it our job; it becomes part of our brand.

Here are a few things to think about when deciding whether or not it’s acceptable to shut out your coworkers for any length of time.

  • Are you the only one wearing headphones? Is this an accepted practice in your workplace? In large, loud, open workspaces, drowning out the conversations around you is often required just to get any work done. It’s a completely common and accepted practice; it is simply part of the company culture. In a smaller, somewhat more divided or quiet setting, it isn’t so necessary. You never want to appear anti-social and uncooperative. Making connections in the workplace is incredibly important to not only getting the job done, but also learning and growing professionally. Being known as the person with the earbuds in isn’t great for your career trajectory.
  • What or whom are you tuning out? If you appear to be unavailable to your boss or coworkers who want to collaborate, consider holding off. The last thing we want to do is look like we’re uninterested in learning from and interacting with other people. You want to be known as someone with expertise, not someone who is unwilling to share their ideas with others. Annoyingly loud phone calls, unnecessary conversation and even some keyboards can cause significant distraction. But appearing unavailable to help or communication in any way is generally something we should avoid at all costs.
  • Is this a regular occurrence? Having conversations in real time (versus email and instant messaging) is a huge part of why we show up to the office every day. Going to the office only to tune out everyone around you is counterintuitive. If a large part of your job requires monotonous task or precise concentration, earbuds and stimulating music or a podcast might help you be more productive. If you start to wear earbuds and headphones on the regular, you might want to rethink your motivation and whether it is merely a habit or something that you can live without for the sake of career advancement and connectivity.

At the end of the day, the choice to wear or not to wear earbuds or headphones is a personal one. Like anything else we do throughout our careers, it needs to be a conscious decision made with eyes wide open to the potential benefits and consequences.

About the Author

Carolyn Stroud

Carolyn Stroud works in finance at a commercial real estate firm in Chicago. Her previous experience includes mortgage banking, leasing, running a start-up and captaining an adult co-ed kickball team. Originally from Detroit, she has an undergraduate degree from Kalamazoo College and an MBA from Pepperdine University. Carolyn is a voracious reader and passionate about growing outside her comfort zone. She recently completed her second marathon and is always up for a challenge.