Workers: Leave the earbuds in the cubicle

Workers: Leave the earbuds in the cubicle

Summary: Walk down most hallways in offices and you'll likely see workers walking around with earbuds or headphones in place, cut off from the world around them.

Bose earbuds
(Image: Bose)

When the corporate world moved from private offices to cubicle configurations workers quickly discovered how noisy and distracting they could be. Before long gadgets like MP3 players and smartphones helped folks deal with the environment with magical earbuds that allowed workers to replace the noise with music.

Not all companies allow such devices in the workplace, but many do. Visit a company that does allow them and you'll see an army of workers with earbuds firmly in place. That's understandable, but it's often taken too far and can lead to isolation of individuals, even in vast cube farms.

No one can blame those who work in noisy environments for plugging in and tuning out. It makes for a more pleasant work day to block the noise and listen to some good tunes. While it may not be a good idea to be always isolated from coworkers, there's nothing wrong to do it regularly.

Earbuds become a thin, dangly barrier to interaction that is vital for coworkers

Where plugging in becomes a problem is when it leaves the cubicle. Walk down any hallway in an office that allows workers to plug in and you'll likely see folks walking around with the earbuds firmly in place. This isolation is not good in public areas, as it cuts people off from colleagues. This becomes a thin, dangly barrier to interaction that is vital for coworkers. Those who do so regularly will get tagged as loners.

While some actually want others to leave them alone, it sends a poor message to both colleagues and managers. The corporate world wants employees to work together, and keeping the earbuds in impedes that objective. Once you get the reputation for not interacting with others it's hard to shed that image.

If you're lucky enough to work in an office that allows the use of audio devices with earbuds, leave them in the cubicle when you leave the space. Make a show of being interested by speaking with coworkers in the halls and other public areas. Actually talk with your colleagues regularly to be known as a team player. The image you give to your managers will be better for it.

It's also a good idea to put the earbuds down in your cubicle from time to time. This will give you a feel for what's going on with others close by. It's easier to relate to coworkers if you hear how their day is going.

If your earbuds are attached to a phone or tablet, don't watch video of any kind at work. It's a quick way to get fired so don't do it. But that's another article for another time.

See related:

Topics: Mobility, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • And don't be listening to Live365.

    Not with Epcot-sounding music like the Innoventions, The Land, and Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland music. :) I see listening to music as a distraction from productivity, even when kept low.
    Grayson Peddie
  • How Far and Where?

    If I leave our office area, not just my cubicle, I certainly leave my mp3 player. But I am not going to stop the player and take out the earbuds to walk 20 feet to the printer or 30 feet to the coffee pot. And if someone needs to talk with me, they can just stop by and I will gladly stop the player and talk with them. In fact I have people instant message me when it is easier to have a face-to-face conversation.

    One thing I don't do - use my company's WiFi to stream music through my phone. With more than 6,600 songs on my iPod, I think I have enough music to get me through the day.
  • Ironic?

    Seems kind of odd for a mobile worker to tell office workers how to behave. While I agree with not isolating yourself if you work in a cube farm I will also tell you that each office has it's own culture. I work in a cube farm and see people listening to music while in the cube but have never seen anyone walking around with them. My advice would be to understand your workplace culture and find a way to work within it (or try to change it if you feel strongly enough to do so).
  • I use ear buds

    For my workstation sounds, like conferencing. Like Grayson Peddie, I find music to be a great distraction when I'm trying to do mental work. Music is great for physical work, but not mental.

    I use the earbuds for two things- conferencing and to isolate me from talkie tom in the next cube. The only time I use an mp3 player (BB10) is when I'm on the elliptical machine.
    • I find music helpful

      Everyone is different.
      For me, music actually helps the thinking process. It depends on the music, of course. Classical or orchestral music without vocals helps me to get into a zone, allowing me to focus better. The volume always remains low enough that I can still hear things around me, and the earbuds never leave my desk.
  • There's a difference between ear buds, and hearing aids.

    Just a reminder that while I.S. may seem to be geared more toward the smart young guy crowd, the fact is that there are a LOT of us older folks of both genders doing the grunt work. Between 2 decades of aircraft and other engine noises, and several decades of loud rock and roll, we don't hear so well without jamming a removable bionic sound enhancer into one or both ears.
  • Sounds like....

    Seems like a pet peeve from the older generation.....
    • Sounds like...

      ...a typical response from a know it all.
    • Sounds like....

      Seems like a good idea from the older generation that knows more.....
  • Earbuds ok, headphones not

    I have some nice studio headphones from Sennheiser which are circumaural (e.g. HD600) which I would never wear at work. I find ear buds are fine, but I only use them to tune out loud project managers and a loud A/C vent over my cubicle. I don't walk around with them; that does seem unprofessional. Ideally, I don't even think that earphones should be allowed, but with the increasingly high density of workers, there's no other way to tune them out, and heaven forbid that they use speakerphones!
  • It's about productivity

    Why are you so worried about folks listening to music at work? It's about productivity. If a person works better with music played over head phones, earbuds, or brain implants, then leave them alone. I have enough background noise around my cube to nearly distract me to uselessness. Benny the blowhard sitting next to me is about 1/2 deaf and talk at a low yell. Once I plug in and tune becomes much easier. Of course when someone comes to talk to me, I remove my headphones, look them in the eye, and carry out an intelligent conversation. Leave us and our music alone and let us do our job, please.
    • Read the article

      It was clearly stated that it's quite OK to listen to music at work, just not walk around with earbuds in cut off from everybody in the public areas.
  • Boss has different ideas

    Ear-buds are acceptable in our office, depending on which manager you have. Mine says no to them despite the workers from different departments being in a large open-plan area. I've had issues hearing people on the phone or concentrating on a task because others around me are laughing, talking loudly or having an argument. When my manager wants quiet time for himself, he just closes his office door. However he doesn't seem to get it that other people also need quiet.
  • Seriously?

    Loud noise effect productivity?
    I wonder how building get build in the city.
    Cubicles are the worst thing Americans adopt too!
    If this is an issue than you probley can't walk and chew at the same time. lol
  • all for it

    I’m all for it. Sometimes it’s a good thing to be able to listen to music while you work, gets you motivated and keeps you on track, especially if you can’t listen to it on computer speakers out loud.
  • Don't run into me

    Listening to music in your office or cubicle or while you're sitting on the bus or in the lunchroom is fine, unless it's so loud it spills out of the earbuds. But I am seriously tired of people who are so joined to their phones of mp3 devices that they don't look where they are walking.

    And yes, it is isolating to see coworkers constantly plugged into their devices. I feel like I cannot talk to them or *should not* talk to them, and frankly, I think it makes them seem a bit rude.
    Crabby K
  • ear buds

    Do what you like. But please don't act so -put out- when someone tries to talk to you. Where ever. I have seen old people and young people act so dismissive and aggitated. Yes, yes, I know you want your privacy and believe you should not be bothered. In that case find a virtual at home job.