With more people working from home than ever before, it’s the perfect time to take a deeper look at how the work experience can be affected by something incredibly simple, but immensely powerful – music.
There aren’t many people who have no interest in music. It’s something that most people are passionate about and care about deeply. Music can define identities and touches us on a level that science struggles to explain.
It can put smiles on faces, evoke memories and change moods in a matter of seconds.
We all know that music is a richly powerful medium, which begs a simple question.
Why aren’t we using it more?
At GBM Music, we’re obsessed with expanding the potential that music has to help us with our everyday lives.
The workplace is one of the key areas that we have identified that music can have a fantastic impact.
So why are more businesses not tapping into the magic of music to motivate their staff members, and increase workplace productivity?
While working from home, workers have more control. Unless they’re in a meeting on Zoom, they can generally listen to what they want to in the background, because they’re not disturbing anyone else.
There is a debate about how much employers should be allowed to check up on employees working from home, with some even using webcams to track what they are getting up to.
And yet the huge potential to use music in the workplace has been completely wasted and continues to be ignored.
I work freelance, and I will occasionally do consulting work, where I will go into another workplace, and set up for a day or two at a time.
One of the things that really strikes me when I do this is how there is rarely any music being played for the staff. I also notice that I tend to feel a lot more drained and in need of a break by the end of the day than I do when I’m working from home.
In my opinion and experience, having music on in the background while working is hugely beneficial for most people. Music gives us energy and can vastly improve how enjoyable a day is.
Whenever I have work to do – especially challenging work that requires a lot of mental energy, or work that I don’t feel positive about – music is the way to get the best out of myself. Music allows me to complete that work faster, and with a smile on my face. It keeps me feeling positive and motivated when the task itself is draining.
But far too many employers insist on stony silence or, even worse, radio with talking voices.
This comes with a real, measurable financial cost.
It leads to distraction, procrastination and sloppy work, as employees look for an escape.
It’s crazy that so many businesses prefer to have less happy and productive staff than they could have with a simple, low-cost solution.
How can music help?
Countless studies have now shown that listening to music we like has a real, measurable effect on our bodies. The science is unequivocal about it.
It reduces stress hormones, lowers our heart rates, and help us to generally feel good and positive.
Being in a positive mood is inevitably good for productivity – especially when it comes to tasks that are repetitive and uninspiring.
What’s more positivity is contagious, creating a virtuous cycle.
By allowing employees to have more access to music during their working day, you can improve how productive your team is, and how effectively they work.
And the best thing is, this is an incredibly low-cost solution that is easy to implement fast.
You can even test it to make sure you’re getting the results you want.
What kind of music is best?
But it’s not quite that simple. Of course, not all music is equal if you’re looking to achieve specific results in your workplace and improve productivity.
To get the benefits, studies on the topic have thrown up a few things to consider.
Firstly, a key point is that the best music for enhancing work tends to be instrumental. Our brains are naturally triggered and engaged by the sounds of speaking and vocals, and we can’t help but tune in to what is being said around us.
Studies have found that this can have a slightly negative impact on concentration.
This leads to most studies recommending classical music to get the most effectively optimised results.
We push back on this a little at GBM Music. From our experience testing music for the workplace – we have found that this does not quite ring true in the real world.
While classical music may be the best option in a lab setting – in reality, it’s not necessarily the best route to take.
The reasons for this are very simple. The studies also indicate that music with a high BPM, and familiar music has a positive impact on concentration and mental performance.
But the most important factor – in our opinion – is how the music makes the listener feel.
This is where the biggest benefits lie, and we believe this is where businesses should focus.
Let your employees listen to music that they actually like because it will make them feel good – effortlessly.
We have also found that music that creates a certain vibe can be great – it can even snap employees into a productive, working mode straight away, sort of like Pavlovian conditioning.
There’s a reason why music genres like LoFi Hip Hop are so popular on YouTube. More and more people enjoy the effect and the atmosphere they create and how it helps them to focus and be more productive.
These soundtracks are unobtrusive, have a nostalgic, familiar and warm, fuzzy feeling that lets the listener snap into a content working mode. It subconsciously tells the brain it’s time to focus.
We have also found that electronic music – such as melodic house music – with high energy and repetitive elements can be particularly effective – especially if the work is repetitive and not much fun.
Other positive effects of music in the workplace.
It’s not just about how the music affects the body and how we feel, however. There are other ways that it can be used to really help in the workplace.
As a noise blocker
We’ve already talked about how distracting a typical office environment can be. Think of the other employees chatting, the buzzing phone calls, and the unrelated meetings that are adding to the ambient hum of distraction.
Music can really help here too. Playing music at a low volume is an excellent way to mask and cover some of this ambient noise. The volume is key here. The right volume can reduce how distracting the general workplace hubbub is, without preventing people from hearing each other and collaborating.
As we’ve mentioned, the brain loves to tune into speech – no matter whether it is relevant or not. So masking the speaking somewhat with low-level music can help to remedy that problem and allow workers to achieve greater levels of focus.
With social media, online videos and Slack interruptions – it can be harder than ever to get settled and focus deeply on a task.
Yet this is the state that we need to reach to produce our best, most creative and effective work.
Books like Deep Focus and Hyperfocus discuss in depth the need to rediscover these blocks of longer, uninterrupted focus. Especially in creative disciplines.
By giving employees permission to put headphones in and enter a deep focus mode – you will give them the space and freedom to go deeper into problems, and perform their best work.
Equally, the headphones can then be an effective signal to others that they should not be interrupted unless necessary until they have finished their focus session.
Listening to music makes us feel better, but it has also been shown to reduce stress levels too.
The true impact of long term stress is nothing short of scary and associated with all kinds of health issues – from obesity to diabetes and cancer.
Allowing music in your workplace will lead to happier, healthier and less stressed members of staff.
Regardless of the productivity benefits, this argument alone is a compelling reason to introduce music freedom into your workplace.
How to bring music freedom into your workplace
While I hope you can see the benefits that music CAN have, it’s also very true that it has to be used carefully.
One man’s medicine is another man’s poison, so it’s important to make sure that you’re giving people a choice over what they like, and also allowing people to opt-out if they wish to.
Having a quiet room can be helpful, as can keeping the music on at a low volume.
Make sure that employees appreciate why music is being played, and that they understand that it is a privilege that should not be exploited.
It’s also the case that popular music can start to cause more of a distraction – as can allowing a choice of what will be played.
For this reason, we recommend choosing from a dedicated library of modern background music.
Of course, you don’t need to dive in fully at first. I often recommend doing a trial run.
It can be particularly effective to start playing music in the afternoons at first. This can help to beat the typical afternoon slump.
You can test how effective it is, tweak what is and isn’t working.
We recommend and can provide an effective questionnaire to anonymously assess how workers are reacting to the change.
But the benefits quickly become clear – especially after the first few weeks, when the novelty has worn off, and listening to productive music has simply become an enjoyable part of the day and routine of your workplace.
How GBM Music can help
We’ll be sharing more tips on how you can implement productive music into your workspace and team.
For example, we also offer a 25-minute piece, which is perfectly designed to complement the Pomodoro Technique – a productivity system where workers work in 25-minute blogs.
The music is optimised to help guide and orientate the listener through each working session.
There is also a lot more optimised music coming on the GBM Music YouTube channel.
We can be commissioned to create original music that uses science and psychology to achieve results, and we can provide consulting services on how you can best use music within your organisation.
I wish you the best of luck and hope you enjoy the incredible power that music has to grow your business, create happier staff, and build a more productive workplace.