Are Headphones the New Cubicle?

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Forgive me Steelcase and other manufacturers who make them, no offense, but the work world has decided that it doesn’t like cubicles. A partition here or there can be a good thing, but a sea of cubicles that go on forever under clouds of fluorescent lighting is not what people want. Open workspaces are cool and cost efficient, and, full of distractions. The answer: wear headphones.

Walk into any cool early stage company and you won’t see any cubicles. What you might see are dogs running around, bricks and old timbers, and hip young people sitting around in that open space.

But you may not hear much chatter or discussing going on, everyone is wearing headphones and listening to anything other than what is going on around them.

Big companies might still have cubicles ranches, but the inhabitants might be wearing headphones anyway. That’s a two-wall system: the wall of the cubicle plus the headphones. Those work places can be just as quiet as a ten person start up.

For those not used to that culture, it’s a little weird. How does communication happen when no one can hear each other? How are teams formed when one person is listening to Kendrick Lamar and his teammate is listening to Tony Bennett. What about sharing stories and jokes? All these things still matter at work.

Managers have often wondered if they are heard by others and now they really wonder. Whether headphones are involved or not, communications will always be problem number one at work. But perhaps wearing headphones is not just about communications

Maybe headphones are about productivity. The laptop screen has enough distractions and social media pings with which we are all familiar. Headphones eliminate the clutter and noise of those around you. Maybe headphones create focus. Maybe headphones are the solution to multitasking, not the problem.

Headphones work to both help separate and create workspaces. They here to stay, and if they make the workplace better, I’m willing to listen.

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