Headphones in the workplace


Just curious - 

What are people's experiences listening to audio (podcasts, radio, music, etc.) and wearing headphones in the workplace? Frowned upon, allowed, absolutely banned, something else? Each office I've worked in has had open-studio setups with everyone clustered near each other in desks, so if one person picks up a phonecall, everyone hears everything about it. I've appreciated being able to block out some of that noise when it gets too loud to focus on my work - yet at the same time, it's understandable that this could be negative to the workplace efficiency and fluidity when people need to get information from each other.

I'm especially curious to know what any firm principles/owners hear have to say about it. All of the architects I've worked for haven't had a problem with it - just as long as you are aware of what is happening around you and when you are needed (ie. time and place to have them or not have them)...

Jun 13, 14 10:33 am
Non Sequitur

My office has a no head-phone policy during working hours. I understand the point behind the policy since many of us work together on small projects and communication is important but I keep a set of earphones ready to go at all times given how some employees in the office have way too personal conversations.

Jun 13, 14 10:37 am

It's situational.  I'm not at all opposed to it.  But there are times, and then there aren't times.  When in a crunch and you need to focus, by all means; I do too.  It shouldn't be a regular habit though and if it is, they should be quiet enough (or just one ear) that you hear the conversations around you and can participate.  A lot of architect development is passed from one to the next rather than from a book.  So you need to hear and pay attention to those around you and learn from the challenges they are facing. 

So as a principal who believes in the collaborate nature of professional growth, if I see you isolating yourself from the rest, I sort of tag you as a loner who can't play well with others.  That becomes your glass ceiling in the firm.

Jun 13, 14 10:43 am

There is no policy at my firm - so do, others don't. I usually listen to music with one earbud in (both in crunch time and I don't want people to talk to me). I find that I can be more productive, yet still hear and participate in conversation with others. I think earbuds are more appropriate than the full earmuffs that some people wear. 

Jun 13, 14 12:36 pm

mightyaa, interesting perspective.

I used to keep my earphones in at just a high enough volume to drown out my co-workers talking about their cats and children, and how they are Amateur Meteorologists in their spare time.   Earphones seemed like it annoyed the partner in my office, but it allowed me to make him $100,000 a year in profit.  

Earphones meant I wasn't distracted by the inanity of the discussions about all things non-work related. There are more of those discussions than learning opportunities.  I really don't care that your Muffins McWhiskers is constipated.  Really.  I don't.  And yes, that buxom weather girl does indeed wear a lot of tight fitting clothes. You're interest in meteorology is a little pervy there, Brian.  I'm thinking it's not so much about the cumulus clouds or high pressure systems.   But look, I've got to review and coordinate these shop drawings.  Earphones Ahoy!

Also it's a bit of a legacy of working methods from school where earphones are a constant and were used to drown out the ruckus of a giant studio full of noise and distraction.  That's how people learn to work these days.

All that said, I am indeed a loner who doesn't play well with others.  What can I say?  I don't like cats.  But I do know how to solve problems and design buildings effectively.  Not that such a thing really matters. 

In the end, they always go with the pervy cat guy.

Jun 13, 14 3:26 pm

but in the beginning, the Architect God created the heavens and the earth...

Jun 13, 14 3:37 pm

Not allowing headphones is more of a power trip than a practical matter.  Many creative people need to focus to do their best work.  Headphones are great.  If headphones block communications with others then why does the CEO have his/her own office.  It is total BS.


Pacific Land Design

Jun 13, 14 4:58 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

just low enough to hear everything at all times... like a phone call or someone with a question..

with that said - I like being able to relax when I start to draft, model, the phones and not on the sites and catching up on my Soundcloud tracks, I try to stay on top of the 700+ musicians I follow, don't want to miss anything, you never know when the next best tune will appear.

as much as many of you hate being entry level draftsmen/architects, trust me - its a zone most guys who don't have headphones in their ears for any other reason than phone conversations miss dearly.  It's the man cave in architecture.

Jun 14, 14 12:09 am

First, I HATE the open office concept. I hate the cube. What a horrible way to work. At my last office I demanded an actual private office and got it. I couldn't imagine trying to work in a sea of people all  the time.

That said, a common area adjacent to all the offices, where people can gather to sort out things together and work on a project as a group is great.

Work and creation is a solo and a collaborative activity. The physical and electronic environment needs to be designed in a way that it can allow people to seamlessly switch between modes.

Jun 14, 14 1:01 am

Headphones are nice for focusing, but this comes at the expense of working in a dud environment where everyone has headphones on, mouthbreathing at a CAD screen. Eh, whatever, just don't play your music out loud.

Jun 14, 14 7:20 am

I listen to focusing sounds - no music - that being said - sure I can focus better - however as mightyyaya says - 

"So as a principal who believes in the collaborate nature of professional growth, if I see you isolating yourself from the rest, I sort of tag you as a loner who can't play well with others.  That becomes your glass ceiling in the firm." 

When in doubt, don't

Jun 15, 14 4:42 pm

Headphones, Earbuds is just not something I have seen being green lit in offices I worked in. Studio or Large office with small design pods. It really didn't matter. Some offices had serious policies against this especially because of multiple clients visiting the office regularly. After hours, was usually the grey zone and depended on too many things to talk about here.

Personally, I am more for an office wide ipod / music share. Nothing like your principal loading his ipod and Kanye starts screaming at you (eventually we all kinda learn to preview before we share)

Headphones like Xenakis mentioned, will often be viewed as isolationist bubble building behavior. If you are not licensed (we all know that generally mentorship is not as crisp as it once was in the golden days) principals and senior associates expect you to be picking up information around you. PMs on the phone, pod meetings, product reps dropping plug in and you tune yourself out of some morsels of information that might prove useful. Same goes for the software environment we are in now. Regardless of whether you are in a Datacad, Microstation, Autocad, Sketchup, (Graphic Production platform of choice) or Revit......people are talking all the time at times. I wouldn't plug in, u.o.n.

Jun 16, 14 12:46 am

Weird to read people come out against headphones. So caveman like. 

Meanwhile in a modern office environment we ditched old school telephones and replaced them with stereo headphones. Your music, NPR or whatever just fades out when someone calls you. Use mouse to pick up the line. 

Jun 16, 14 11:57 am

sometimes a descent song puts me in a better mood. At times I have to put them on and use them as ear plugs to drown out the very loud fake laughing, and ass kissing.

Jun 29, 14 2:40 am
I learned an awful lot about how to be an architect by listening in a no-headphones environment.

At our firm, we allow them. In fact, we have very few conduct rules. But I can tell that the staff wearing headphones don't pick up nearly as much from professional conversations happening around them. It also seems that they don't care.

Jun 30, 14 6:42 pm

From an employers point of view I didn’t like it. Have allowed them and not allowed them over the years. Years ago when I was coming up and this just started I witnessed the owner (Big firm) reach over and rip the earphones off a guy.,…just rip them off his face for not hearing him call out across the room. I once, as a principal, walked up to a guy and started talking and he didn’t even turn around. I hear everyone’s points about crunch time and such but I always felt these guys were tuning us all out, off somewhere, just couldn’t help feeling that way. Be careful, if you tune them out they may tune you out.

Jul 23, 14 4:44 pm

If I use them with one on one off. I don't think people realize that its been scientifically proven that we all know a fake laugh when we hear it 99.9% of the time. That's about the only time I put both on when its just noise pollution.

Jul 24, 14 12:04 am
jon ammer

"My office has a no head-phone policy during working hours."

 "Some offices had serious policies against this especially because of multiple clients visiting the office regularly. After hours, was usually the grey zone and depended on too many things to talk about here."


a couple of statements that illuminate the acceptance of the long hours culture within Architecture by Principals and Staff.  

what are staff doing in the office if they are not working ?  what exactly  is the 'grey zone' and what does no headphones during 'working hours' mean ? what are staff doing in the office 'after working hours’ .....  ?

Jul 24, 14 8:43 am

It used to be, we could wear earphones, but because of our increasing pace, demands and interruptions, we can no longer wear earphones

Nov 8, 17 1:13 pm

Good to know, im selling my stock in beats by dre

I use Bose noise canceling ones because my neighbors like the leaf blowers and also the jack hammers.

Nov 8, 17 2:02 pm

I worked with a guy once who seemed as if everything anyone did in the office annoyed him and he would go straight to his headphones; people eating, employee conversations, phone calls, laughter, blowing your nose, making cat sounds (my favorite pastime), any typing more than autocad commands. personally i thought the guy was on edge and could snap any moment

Some people are really sensitive to noise. Some people mold. Some people "foul" language. It is different for each person.

I don't work in an office though.

I have one associate but she is in AZ and I am in CA.

Our neighborhood has a rash of un-permitted projects this quarter as I learned yesterday from the HOA newsletter. Lucky me.


That sounds like me, honestly. The office I used to work in was dead quiet. I sat next to someone who, not even exaggerating, slurped tea, smacked microwave fish, and ate crunchy salads all day long. He also had chronic year-round allergies and would blow his nose all day (which is a pet peeve of mine) and kept all of the wadded up tissues on his desk instead of throwing them in the garbage. I thought I was going to rip my hair out from all of the chewing, slurping, nose blowing sounds that I wore headphones constantly. I got a job at a different office with a lot of ambient noise which was very helpful for me, and began only wearing headphones when my boss (who sat about 6 feet away on the other side of a thin divider) was on long conference calls.


Sometimes I just listen to my white noise app (also has forest sounds, coffee shop ambient noise, etc.,) because anything else would be too distracting for the task at hand.


I guess having had 3 children has taught me to unconsciously noise cancellation

3 children + 4 cats + 1 cello player = Bose headphones


sometimes Dave I get the feeling you are challenging me to an online arm wrestle. reminds me of watching a james bo
nd film & james bond never appears :D


It seems a little un-architecture like to walk in from lunch and everyone has headphones on, then I have to say, dan, dan, DAN!!! imho, keep the office music low and take turns with genre or station as long as its work appropritate

Nov 8, 17 2:29 pm

We wear earphones, I keep my music on 100%. I want people to know I'm listening to satanic music.

Nov 8, 17 3:09 pm

so you like alternative rock, big deal!

I agree, music is personal

I'm going to play the last David Bowie album some more now.

Nov 8, 17 5:42 pm

"Brett, it's 1986 David Bowie from the movie Labyrinth."


a workaround for those w anti-headphone policies- get a wireless earbud and try to pass it off as a hearing aid :)

Nov 14, 17 11:38 am

Had Radio Paradise play on speaker in one office, provided a very mellow atmosphere and people would still interact.

I really enjoy listening to music at work through my headphones but I'm often getting distracted and focus too much on what to play next or get annoyed when YT AutoPlay or mix isn't working properly. 

Headphones work only for doing mind numbing drawing/modelling. For writing though, music isn't working for me unless it's instrumental or nature sounds, I sometimes play nature sounds on speaker to mess with people...what, raining again?

What I also enjoy is musical estafette when each coworker can play one song out loud, great conversation starters and you get to know your colleagues from a fresh perspective. Works best after office hours and on Fridays.

So headphones, yes, but music for me is enjoyed better with people so on speaker.

Nov 14, 17 4:21 pm

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