Making Music Work At Work

When we first started working in our warehouse it was just my partners and I. We had an old boom box (remember those?) that we used to play local radio stations while we were in the warehouse. When we got back to the office someone would throw music on their computer. Sometimes people would use headphones if they wanted to zone in to their work. It kind of just worked and we didn’t think much of it.

Fast forward to last year and our lack of a music policy started to cause problems. Employees didn’t always like each other’s tastes in music. People were distracted by sports talk radio. People weren’t able to communicate because some people had headphones on. It would be difficult to carry on a conversation with multiple audio streams coming from different spots in the building. Somewhat surprisingly (to me anyway), it became a recurring issue.

After quite a bit of discussion, we decided to take the stance that music was a privilege and not a right. No one needs music to work. We’d come up with a set of policies that were more than fair, and if everyone couldn’t abide by them we’d pick the station or revoke the music all together.

The first rule was no talk radio – to focus on what’s being said means you’re not focusing on your work. Maybe worse, talk radio is in the business of starting debates and we didn’t need our employees constantly fighting over controversial topics.

We also agreed that there were to be no headphones worn at all. It’s too easy to miss a knock on the office door or at one of our docks. It’s also too easy to miss a co-worker yelling something important across the warehouse. Headphones also tend to lead to a general lack of conversation and teamwork. And from a safety standpoint, if there is an emergency, the last thing we want is for someone not to be able to react appropriately because their headphones are blocking out their hearing.

Our solution was rather simple: there was to be one single source of audio playing throughout the warehouse and office. We picked up a set of these fantastic wireless speakers (I own a set for home too), connected them to our shipping computer, purchased Spotify and Pandora premium accounts, and said that it was their job to decide who gets to choose the music, but if it became a problem they’d lose the privilege.

Since then we haven’t had any problems. The guys take turns. The miscommunications are gone. They all are great about allowing the part-time employees equal opportunity to pick the music. Even though everyone has different tastes, there hasn’t been any fighting or debates, nor has their been any issues.

It’s fascinating how something as innocuous as music can hurt a culture if the right framework isn’t in place. Thankfully I think we’ve got it now. We’ve even listed our music set up on our careers page as a perk of working here.

8 comments on Making Music Work At Work

  1. Tim says:

    Great post about the real daily grind of running a business Adam. We ran into the same problem when we had our tire shop, the only solution that we found that worked, at that time, was no music at all. It was disappointing that people couldn’t agree, but it became a safety item, not to mention a productivity item. Glad you guys could be more democratic with your solution!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks Tim! I’m actually relieved to hear that you had the same issue – sometimes I feel like we’re the strict parents punishing their kids for stuff no one else would! It’s funny how much time stuff like this takes up. Sometimes I ask myself where all the time went on any given day/week/month, and it’s stuff like this that you never account for.

  2. Scott Messner says:

    Nice to know I have good taste in wireless speakers! Those are the exact same model that I bought for my wife’s shoe store when we opened in June.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Ha that’s awesome. They really are a nice set of wireless speakers. We have them spaced out throughout our warehouse and office and the sound is crystal clear. In my house we have one on the porch, one in the kitchen, one in the living room, and one upstairs and they all work great. I love having the option of using them with or without batteries too. I have an old iPod touch loaded with Pandora that we keep connected to mine. Gets the job done much cheaper/easier than something like Sonos.

  3. Adam–great post! When you first start a business, you don’t think of these things as being potential issues. I like the idea of having no headphones because it creates an environment for better teamwork. It seems like everywhere you go these days, people are “plugged in” and completely distraction via music, texting, emailing, etc. It’s good to know you are taking a forward-thinking approach and addressing these types of “digital age” issues head on.

  4. Pat Le says:

    What about other things such as online chatting and social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter? We have employees using AIM to do stock check with vendors and also manage our FB account. Did you guys run into any issues with employees abusing that?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Really good questions Pat. We haven’t had any problems with Facebook or Twitter really. All of our monitors in the office face the middle of the room so it’s pretty easy to tell what someone is doing. As far as I know I’ve never seen anyone on social media except during their breaks, however we don’t really have any people who are all that active on social media to begin with so maybe it’s just the personalities of our small team.

      We have had some problems with texting and cell phones going off in general. We made a pretty simple rule – if it’s an important call/text just let everyone know and you can answer it, otherwise wait until your lunch break. So far no one has abused that. We also tell everyone to put their phones on vibrate to minimize the distractions.

      I’m sure if we grow beyond our current team we’ll run into more of these types of issues but up to this point the music has been the only thing that really caused a problem.

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