It’s a sight so common it’s almost unremarkable. No matter where you are, if you look up there’s a high chance you’ll see at least one person with headphones on – in a world all of their own. You could be powering through a final set at the gym. Concentrating on your work in the office. Staring out of a train window and letting your mind go blank. For all of these different situations, we have an intuitive idea of which music would be most appropriate.
Music can espouse feeling. It can be relaxing or lively. Tiring or uplifting. Happy or sad. But these sounds influence not just our feelings but also our actions – how well we perform, how we respond to certain things. Exactly why is this? How can we make the most of it? And the question that interests us most: how can workplaces use music to improve productivity and wellbeing in the corporate and coworking spaces?
A song for the ages
Music has been used for millennia to communicate feelings. Explore the world and you’ll hear a incredible variety of sounds. There is an evolutionary drive towards making and enjoying music: we hear this in the earth-shaking hum of the didgeridoo and the distinctive hypnotic chants of various native American tribes. Indeed, it’s now known that listening to music lights up areas of the brain associated with emotion, meaning that it’s not just background noise or atmosphere. It’s a way of changing your thinking and acting.
How calm music relaxes us…
Put on your favourite chilled playlist and before long, you’ll likely notice your heart rate slow, your breathing relax. Although it may seem like a spiritual experience, there’s a science to it. When you listen to some ambient noise you subconsciously know what you’re going to hear. Chilled beats play at a regular tempo, the build-ups are slow – not abrupt and unexpected. Likewise, nature sounds are also eminently predictable: the waves in an ‘At the Beach’ soundtrack hit the shore at regular intervals, rain falls at a constant pace.
This predictability is what our brain craves when it wants to relax. Think of an analogue clock, and how easily it’s regular ‘tick-tock-tick-tock’ recedes into the background of a silent room. Ambient music effectively does this too, all while drowning out distracting background noises, thus allowing us to fully focus on the task at hand. It’s also thought that such music effectively wins the fight for your brain’s limited bandwidth, meaning that any distracting thoughts, noises, even physical feelings such as pain all take a backseat while the music keeps playing.
… And high tempo music gets us excited
Most gyms are heavily associated with the heavy bass and pounding beats of workout music. The higher tempo is a practical consideration, with humans conditioned to prefer rhythms that keep us at a healthy pace. Studies show that upping the tempo can even improve performance, as people subconsciously strive to match higher tempos. Think of it as a throwback to the days of chasing gazelles across the plains of Africa, the steady thump of footprints now replaced by a drum machine and synthesiser.
In much the same way as before, faster music also helps distract us from the pain that comes with certain exercises by competing for the limited sensory input of the brain. So much so that it’s not uncommon to see Olympian swimmers enter the stage decked in nothing but speedos, goggles, luminous swimming cap, and some very conspicuous headphones.
Music in the workplace
In 2016, researchers from Cornell University found that playing music in the workplace helped to foster a sense of community and improve team productivity. However, this came with a caveat – it had to be somewhat upbeat and (more importantly) music that people actually liked hearing. Songs such as ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘Walking on Sunshine’ significantly increased the feeling of collective goodwill while lesser known family favourites such as the thrash metal number ‘Smokahontas’ (by Attack! Attack!) led to less cooperative behaviour.
Of course, the exact music played should depend on the kind of area it’s being played in. Nowhere is this more important than in coworking spaces, where music taste will vary as much as the work that people are doing. There are a few golden rules that we follow at Uncommon: more upbeat music keeps things lively and boosts creativity, making it perfect for recharging in the cafe or break room. Meanwhile, calm music in work areas aids focus when the volume is kept to background levels. This allows people to tune it out or simply put on their headphones and drown it out. Even if that does involve some Attack! Attack!
Uncommon workspaces recognise the power of music on on your wellbeing and your work, curating playlists that change throughout the day to align with the vibe throughout the space. Whether you’re brainstorming the next big idea or simply dissecting a bit of nuclear physics, each zone provides the appropriate playlist (or silence) necessary to maximise your work ethic. So come over and have a listen!
Uncommon takes pride in helping businesses thrive. Our workspaces are designed with your wellbeing in mind. Every single detail helps create an environment in which you can feel good about where and how you work. Visit our locations in Borough, Highbury & Islington, and Fulham to experience our unique vision of working life across London.