Cube vs. Corner: Is it appropriate to wear headphones at work?

Cube-vs-Corner-Graphic-300x87Cube vs. Corner is the place were we tackle and issue from two sides: the boss’s perspective, and the employee’s perspective. This time we’re tackling wearing headphones at work. There’s been some controversy whether or not it’s appropriate to wear them in the office, major critics site that employees isolate themselves from company culture and miss opportunities to collaborate and innovate with others. Brad and Devan talk about how wearing headphones at work has affected their office:

wear headphones in the office


I know that a lot of your work requires big chunks of time when you can concentrate and “get into the flow”. I see you with your headphones on dialed in to what you are working on. I know that’s a productive place for you.

But there are also times when I need to talk with you to get a question answered, to get a status update, or to get your opinion on something. My schedule is pretty packed, so I can’t just wait until you finish a task and there’s a natural break.

How can I get the answers to my questions without interrupting your flow?



First off, I didn’t know this bothered you! When I put both earbuds in, I try to get into “the zone” so I can crank out a bunch of stuff. Putting on some jams and blocking outside distractions helps me do that. (Other days I just want to go a little more solo and quiet and listen to music while working.)

I know this sounds super lame, but if you see me really tuned in, message me and say hey – you gotta sec? That gives me a moment to finish up something, take off my ear buds and then holler back at you.

In the future, I’ll try to give you the heads up if I’ve gotta block out an hour or two to get something done. I want to be respectful to you because I know you’re in and out of the office a lot, so I need to make sure I’m available to you when you need it.



Wow, that just was not the response I wanted! I find it incredibly weird to text someone — “got a sec?”. It feels like I’m interrupting you to say, “Can I interrupt you…”?

It is good to think of it in reverse though. I guess things that aren’t urgent are best in an email (maybe with a time we could talk so it doesn’t turn into 20 emails). Or, we could at least batch several issues together so interruptions are less frequent.

But when things are urgent, I’m OK with you sending a text or IM saying, “I need you for thus-and-so, when can you free up.” That seems better to me than “got a sec?”. It’s more specific (I know why you are asking) and the interruption is to see when is a good time to talk.

How does that sound?



Ha!  I guess what I mean by “got a sec?” is actually what you proposed. I figured you would send me a quick sentence — “hey I got a question about XYZ, can we chat?” But even if you said “got a min?” I’d know you needed to chat and I’ll close up what I’m doing to talk.

Regardless — just shoot me an IM/message so I’ll see it right away. Then you don’t have to holler at me from across the room. 😛 Does that work for you? (or am I being selfish?)



Not selfish — just protecting your productivity — and I’m fine with that. I like productivity! On the other hand, when I do need you now I can get you. Makes sense.







Photo Credit: ToNG!? (Flickr)

Devan Perine

Devan Perine works with small business owners on their marketing and multimedia efforts. She's passionate about helping businesses build their presence online, and giving Gen Y a voice in the workplace. When she's not working, she loves to make a mess in the kitchen, and play with her band around Chicago. She loves to chat! Give her a shout on Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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