iPods in the Workplace: Diligence or Distraction?

Aplet, 32 and a former rock musician, rarely separates himself from his iPod, and that includes while he’s at work. When he’s not enjoying his downloaded music, from Bob Marley to the White Stripes, he listens to podcasts about Internet design. Recently he plugged his iPod into the office’s audio system and blared holiday music, much to the delight of his fellow staffers.

“My iPod’s a lifesaver,” says Aplet. “If I’m coding a Web site and I need to be focused and not distracted by conversations, I’ll put on a headset and tune out. Then I’ll just pound away on the keyboard.”

Tuning Out to Get Cranking

Office drones everywhere have been performing the same factor for years, and their ranks appear to be growing.A recent survey by Spherion, a recruiting and staffing organization, discovered that almost a third of U.S. workers now listen to music on their iPods or similar devices whilst on the job. About 80 percent of those workers said the devices improve their job satisfaction and productivity.

“I am in favor of any technology that may be utilized for entertainment whilst searching exactly like work to the casual observer,” jokes “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams in an e-mail interview. “And any entertainment you are able to discover during a enterprise meeting is properly worth the risk of being detected.” Nonetheless, what do bosses and colleagues take into consideration the iPod invasion? That is where things can get complicated.

Closing Doors

Is listening to music at work truly a boost to productivity, they wonder, or is it a distraction? Does plugging into an iPod isolate listeners from their coworkers, shutting down natural communication and driving wedges between younger employees and their less-technologically savvy colleagues? Will an employee who’s wrapped up in a Jordin Sparks song hear her telephone, or a fire alarm?

What about security problems?

Is it possible for a disgruntled worker to download sensitive corporate info as easily as he can a song from iTunes? Some companies, typically smaller, tech-oriented firms, are fine with their employees firing up iPods and MP3 players on the job. Several, which includes international firms like National Semiconductor and Capital 1 Financial, have even purchased them in bulk for employees who can use them to listen to training sessions as well as other organization communications at their desks, while traveling or even at home.

You’ve Got to Be Careful

However, not all organizations are excited about the invasion of the iPod people. Asked about iPods at Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) in Folsom, Calif., organization spokesperson Teri Munger pauses. “I have never observed anybody with an iPod within the workplace,” a minimum of in her creating, she says. The tiny players are not as innocuous as they look, some businesses insist, and raise some serious workplace questions.

“They’re great devices,” says Barbara Pachter, an office-etiquette and communications specialist in New Jersey. “With all of these kinds of technologies, although, it is about how you use them within your individual work space. You’ve got to be careful.”

The Spherion survey, conducted by Harris Interactive (Nasdaq: HPOL), found that younger workers are most likely to listen to music on their iPods while working. Almost half of adults ages 25 to 29 say they do so, compared with 22 percent of workers ages 50 to 64.

Those iPods, MP3 players and also the like appear to be most commonly utilized amongst workers with “more monotonous jobs,” like filing and photocopying, and solitary jobs that call for little interaction with colleagues or the public, says Brett Wiatre, Spherion’s Western region director of operations.

“In that kind of niche situation, the music seems to maintain individuals motivated and moving,” Wiatre says. Not All Workplaces Correct for iPod

Daniel Robin, a workplace consultant in Santa Cruz, Calif., agrees that the devices have their location at some work sites.

Nonetheless, at other people? Not so a lot.

“It seems fine if a person is flying solo, like an information-technology technician who spends a lot of time in transit to user internet sites,” Robin says. Nonetheless, they’re “safety no-nos,” he says, in other cases.

“What in the event you can’t hear a forklift approaching?” Robin asks.

Or a colleague complaining?

One of the most wonderful and irritating thing about iPods inside the office, says Pachter, is their capacity to cut workers off from the real world. “The ‘pro’ part of it is that their music doesn’t really bother other people, and it may help some people focus,” says Pachter, coauthor of the book New Rules@Work ($13.95, Prentice Hall, 272 pages).

“The downside is that individuals get so caught up in what they’re listening to that they do not hear other people talking to them. When their headsets are on, it’s impossible to tell if they’re listening to you, or listening to their music. It drives me crazy!” iPod iSolation

“Dilbert” creator Adams, who has poked fun at the phenomenon in his wildly popular comic strip about life within the work cubicle, says he doubts that anybody “is more productive with distractions than without.”

“Still, anything that makes your coworkers less likely to talk to you has to be an excellent thing,” he jokes. Dale Carnegie Training takes the matter a bit more seriously. The business advises caution when making use of iPods at work.

“Even if your office sanctions iPod use, very first contemplate your specific position and objectives,” Dale Carnegie’s Internet site reads. “Are you new and trying to form great working relationships?

“The iPod may possibly isolate you and discourage interaction with others.”

Setting Policies

At Intel, the choice about regardless of whether using iPods is appropriate is up to individual managers, says Munger. Generally, it is acceptable if “work just isn’t impacted, employees are acting in a safe manner and their cube mates are not being distracted,” she says.

Wiatre of Spherion says some businesses are setting policies about when and how iPods may be employed on the job, just as they’ve placed restrictions on the use of cell phones and other individual technological devices.

“Some of our clients ban them,” he says. “Others are setting policies particular to the job and also the work environment. We encourage employers to set established, consistent standards, so that there are no misunderstandings.”

Folsom startup SynapSense has no such policies. Most of its 40 employees, who hail from such far-flung places as South Africa, India and Barbados, embrace iPods at work, says spokesperson Patricia Nealon.

“We have a really diverse set of people, and they listen to all kinds of various music,” she says. “In a cubicle environment where folks retain their own space and want to focus on what’s correct in front of them, it works out excellent.”

For software developers or code writers, anyway. Nealon herself leaves her iPod at house. “I’m a marketing person, and I adore interacting with individuals around me,” she says. “I only use my iPod when I work out.”

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