Solving music in an office

Dan Gough
3 min readAug 26, 2015

For me, music is integral to my life. Whether that be what song I choose for my alarm in the morning, the album I listen to on the walk to work, or the playlists that come on during the work day. I honestly can’t go a waking hour without music. Alarmingly for me, it’s not the same for everyone.

When there were 5 of us at 3 SIDED CUBE, we all loved listening to music during the day, it was a no-brainer, it was part of the culture. As we grew, we employed a few people who wanted silence for one main reason: concentration. It seemed like a fair request, so we tried it and over about a year, we had one of our only big culture disagreements: #musicgate.

I want to tell you about a few solutions we tried. Some worked for a day, some worked for a while and one has worked ever since.

Half-day music

“Let’s please everyone” we said. So we opted for half-day music. We got to choose each day which half would work best, based on how busy we were. It worked at first. From my side, the absence of music was heart breaking but I thought I’d soldier on because I could see some benefits; it meant people could really concentrate with absolutely no distractions. What I didn’t realise was how uncomfortable silence could make some people feel.

Suddenly, you became aware of how you breathe, how you chew gum, how you eat a sandwich. It’s like being in a silent torture chamber and you’re scared to even breathe.

Headphones for music lovers

“If you love music, wear headphones” In theory, this makes perfect sense. The people who want sound can put it in their ears, as it’s easier to drown out sound than it is to drown out silence. However, this creates a few key problems:

  • Communication suddenly dropped, no one was asking people for information, they would e-mail them instead.
  • There were more people who liked music, than those who liked silence.

This created a strange balance and ultimately, the damage to communication just wasn’t worth the price.

Headphones for silence lovers

“If you want silence, get some sound cancelling headphones!” So, now you’re punishing people who want silence! How does that work? It doesn’t. It’s not feasible, and suddenly they’re cut off from their team because they’ll constantly be headphoned up!

Request no music

“If you really need silence, just ask!” We figured that if you really needed silence, you could just ask and we’d turn the music off for a while. But wait! Who then notifies someone and says we should put the music back on? No-one. That was the problem, once the music was off, it didn’t get turned on for hours after — and then we’re back to square one.

Different spaces

Nothing worked. “Blimey” we thought, this is hard. We made the decision that having no music was damaging the culture, so we decided to have it on at all times. People could add songs to the Sonos (we used to use our iMacs), so they could hear songs they wanted to!

Then… the problem solved itself (well, sorta). As we grew, so did the office space and with that growth, we realised that the actual solution was more spaces. If you wanted silence, you could just break away to a quiet area and chill out. If you wanted to be social, you could hit up the jungle area. If you wanted to be chilled, you could hang out at the coffee bar.

Spaces were the answer, and we couldn’t be more happy.



Dan Gough

Creative specialising in user-led design, apps and rapid prototyping.