Should You Play Music In A Shared Workspace?

Music can help bring people together and strengthen coworking communities, however it takes more than just picking a song to make background music work, here are a few tips from experts that have tried and tested music in shared workspaces.
  • Offering ambient music in coworking spaces can help cover some less welcome sounds and provide a reprieve in quiet spaces. 
  • However, music is incredibly personal, which is why finding a happy medium between genres (and volume) can be a challenging task. 
  • During a recent Coworking Convo hosted by Cat Johnson, Anne Kirby, founder of The Candy Factory, shared her advice on playing music in the workplace.

It has long been a topic of great debate: should you play music in your shared workspace?

In coworking spaces that are naturally full of hustle and bustle, a little background music seems like a good idea. Against the existing audible backdrop of footsteps, doors closing, passing traffic, general chit chat and unfortunately, coughs and sniffles, ambient music helps to distract from some of the, err, less welcome sounds coming from your coworkers.

Music can be a welcome reprieve in deafeningly quiet spaces, too.

It can be uncomfortable to work in quiet spaces that are full of people. A little ambient music helps to drown out the feeling of working in a hushed library and gives people the courage to talk and move around, without becoming the centre of attention.

Everybody has an opinion on music. It triggers conversation, breaks the ice and creates common ground between people. For coworking spaces that aim to bring members together and inspire collaboration, music can be a great way to encourage connections.

As such, background music can actually help strengthen coworking communities.

But there’s a flip side.

Music is incredibly personal. Songs that mean the world to one person have a distinctly negative effect on another. It could even drive a person out of a space, which is the last thing any operator wants. Which genre do you choose? How do you find a happy medium between the person who loves jazz, or the one who lives by rock ‘n roll?

Should you choose instrumental music, or songs with lyrics?

And what about volume? For those who sit near a speaker, it will always be too loud. Yet those on the other side of the room will barely hear a note.

Music in Coworking Spaces — Tips from the Experts

In a bid to find a solution to playing music in a shared space — if a solution exists at all — content marketer Cat Johnson hosted a video conversation with members of the coworking industry to find out how others approach the situation.

In her ‘Coworking Convo’, which featured around 25 participants from the flexible workspace industry, Cat invited Anne Kirby, founder of The Candy Factory in Lancaster, PA, to share her advice on playing music in the workplace.

“Music is a big part of my life,” said Anne, “and music is integral to building communities.”

When she started The Candy Factory in 2010, Anne already knew she wanted to host music events and tap the local art and culture scene, so music has been woven into the fabric of her coworking space since the beginning.

“We use music to engage with members,” said Anne. “There is a lot of commonality; it helps people get to know each other and it’s a great way to get people talking.

“We’ve had a lot of fun with music. We look at it as a way to connect with people and create opportunities for people to network.”

As The Candy Factory has grown physically over the years, Anne has been able to create a variety of spaces inside the building with their own unique feel, and background sounds are integral to the vibe in each space.

This also helps them to integrate the needs of people who like quieter environments.

“Most of our spaces have background music so it feels less like a library,” she says. “By the choice of music, you create a certain energy.” One space has the energy of a cafe, with upbeat music to match, while another is quiet with low-key ambient music for focused work.

At The Candy Factory, members are invited to add songs to the playlist, providing they stick with the overall vibe of the space they are using.

“You assume you know what people want but so often, assumptions are wrong. So we allow our members to actively participate in the music selection. It’s a nice way to showcase different musical interests, and it shows we care.”

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“Genre-related music battles”

According to Anne, she has never experienced significant problems playing music. This is partly because music has been woven into the culture of the space since the beginning.

Other operators who joined the Convo said they had experienced issues with members when playing music in open spaces.

Specifically, some members didn’t like the genre being played, with one Convo participant describing it as “genre-related music battles”.

“It’s challenging if you don’t have additional space for people to escape,” said Anne. “So you could compromise — tell people what type of music you’re going to play in the morning or in the afternoon, and if they don’t enjoy a particular type, suggest they put on headphones.”

Tips for Trying Out Music in Your Workspace

For those who want to play music in their workplace but don’t have a large enough space to divide into zones, participants of the Coworking Convo produced a number of suggestions:

  • Approach it as a trial. Let members know that you intend to trial music for an hour or two each day, such as 9am-11am for a certain number of weeks. “It eases your members in and gives them time to think it over.”
  • Keep the volume low. Remember that it is a workplace, not a cafe. Keep the volume low for those who don’t want too much background noise and monitor the music being played. Consider restricting the genre or volume during core work hours, and ramp it up after 4pm or on Fridays.
  • Play music in the kitchen. Some people are strictly against music at work because they feel it’s unprofessional, particularly when they’re on the phone or inviting clients in for meetings. Instead of playing it in the workplace, introduce music in an informal area, such as a kitchen or lounge (if you have one).
  • Ask for feedback regularly. Always get your members’ input. You could hold a vote and go with the majority — but be wary of ostracising loyal members. If they no longer enjoy working in your space, they will simply leave.
  • Hold a town hall. Making the switch from a quiet space to one that plays music is a big change for existing members. Don’t do it overnight; hold a town hall and invite your community to provide feedback. “Tell them you’re thinking of playing ambient music and invite them to discuss it.” Use the event to generate conversation and find out what they like, and what type of music they would like to trial (if any).
  • Suggest headphones. If you’re determined to introduce music into your workspace, suggest to your members that they use headphones if they dislike the style of music being played.

While this topic will never be permanently put to rest, it is up to you — the coworking owner — to make your stance on music in the workspace and stick to it.

If you value your members and the community you have built, you will respect their thoughts on whether or not they, or at least the majority, want music played in the space they pay for.

If your members disagree with your decision, be prepared to lose some of them along the way.

This may or may not be a bad thing.

The flexible space industry is growing and competition is increasing, which is leading some spaces to try new things in a bid to differentiate their offering and develop their own culture.

At The Candy Factory, Anne stands firm on their music policy and offers a ‘take it or leave it’ approach.

“If you try to please everyone, you will end up with a vanilla space that’s bland,” she said.

“Sometimes you just have to make an executive decision. I make it really clear when someone comes in for a tour, that this is the space, this is the vibe. It might not be for you — and that’s okay.”

Join the next Coworking Convo on February 28. Can coffee be used to market a workspace? Hosted by Cat Johnson, the coffee-focused conversation will feature insights from Jamie Orr, co-founder of Cowork Tahoe, and input from fellow workspace operators. Sign up for free here

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