Basic rules for happily listening to music in an open office

Ronald Mendez
Dec 16, 2017 · 4 min read

Music is a key player in the workdays of those of us who make a living in front of a computer. Though many prefer having full control of what they feed their ears, it can be a good idea to collaborate through shared speakers.

The only problem is that an office jukebox can produce conflicts when it comes to simple things like choosing a song or setting a proper volume.

After a couple of years of collaborating and fighting over the music played in an office of more than sixty people, I decided to write down some basic rules to help ease out tension and keep the workplace in harmony.

1. Mind the volume

Find the sweet spot. Sometimes it’s hard, but it is the only way it’ll work out. In my office it can get tricky, considering that not all desks are at an equal distance from the speakers, so not everyone gets the same dose of decibels. We found that trial and error is the best approach to calibrating the perfect accepted volume range.

An easy way of knowing if it’s too loud is if you can hear background music while you’re playing something else on your headphones.

2. Rules ain’t for fools

Whether they’re unwritten, unspoken or printed out as a giant poster, it’s always nice to set some basic ground rules. Maybe not from the get-go, but maybe after some legal precedent you’ll have to start drafting some clauses.

3. Keep the flow going

There’s nothing worse than an awkward silence. So if you’re going to get behind the wheel, make sure you’re in it for the long run. It doesn’t have to be hours of music, but make sure to keep it going for a while before stepping down.

4. Not so rough

Unless you want to bring out your colleague’s killer instinct, I would suggest leaving Egg Raid On Mojo just for your headphones. Although it’s great to use music to pick up the pace around the office, it’s important to not burn the house down.

5. Not so blue either

Many would agree that softer music is better to keep everyone in a calm state and not interfere with people’s work. But let’s not mistake that for downright depressive music. Keep in mind that sometimes you simply might have a hard time getting through the day, so maybe some mood-killing music might turn out to be the Debbie Downer you definitely don’t need.

I’m a fan of Radiohead, but let’s be clear you might want to reconsider playing the whole discography without leaving some songs out.

6. Careful, careful

I personally don’t think that I can be offended by an individual track, but not everyone is the same. Sometimes it might not be the song itself, but the context could stir things ups. Make sure you aim to avoid casualties during your quest.

You definitely should consider leaving 2 Live Crew jams out of the mix, even if you still haven’t gotten over the death of Fresh Kid Ice.

7. Mix things up

Even if you have great taste in music and love playing the best bands ever, people get tired of repetition. Try not to play a song more than once in a day and try not to play the same band straight for more than a handful of songs.

8. (Chinese?) Democracy is the only way

I get it, you might not be a big fan of democracy. Trump. Maduro. Brexit. The people’s choice is not always the right choice, but when it comes to blasting speakers, you have to listen to the masses.

Let your co-workers have the chance to ban a song if needed. If someone gets crazy with power, have a clause that allows removing their DJ benefits for a while without having to get into a big discussion.

9. Don’t be sneaky, man

If you don’t like a song, say it. If you want to take control, ask. If you think it’s too loud, request to lower the volume. Easy-peasy.

There’s nothing worse than someone operating from the shadows. Be sure to put a face to any complaints you might have. Your own face, that is.

10. Have fun

It may sound redundant, but if people are not having fun then maybe your office might not be ready for this emotional roller coaster of a social experiment. After all, we would only do something like this just to have a better working environment.

Although I tend to write about topics completely different than this, I thought it would be nice to share my point of view about a topic I never read about. Then I started doing some research and found some great posts about offices sharing music and came upon this cool slack integration that I just might give a try in my office anytime soon.

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