What It Means to Wear Headphones at Work
Nobody seems to agree just why Apple is buying Beats, as is rumored to be happening soon, to the tune of $3.2 billion. But given that Beats is primarily known for its line of conspicuously branded headphones, now seems a good time to consider why headphones have become so monumentally valuable.
Generally the rising interest in headphones is discussed as a side effect of the rise of smartphones, tablets, and MP3 players: We’re entertaining ourselves in public more frequently, from the kids enveloped in games in the back seat to the subway commuter lost in the new Black Keys album.
I think there’s another, less diversionary factor: Thanks to the rise of the so-called “open plan” office, an even less-private evolution of the familiar cubicle farm, headphones aren’t just a handy way to make a commute more tolerable. They’re necessary office equipment.
Read more: 5 Headphone Styles That Make a Statement
The value of Crayola-splat styling
I reached out to a variety of open-plan-office denizens, from head honchos on down, to see how the evolution of headphone form and function is playing out in the workplace.
Turns out that at SoundCloud, the audio platform, headphones are literally standard office equipment: Every employee gets a pair of Urbanears headphones in her new-hire onboarding kit. “They’re nice because they’re all different colors and also extremely visible,” explains Diana Kimball, who works in the firm’s Berlin headquarters, “so you can tell when someone is ‘head-down’ or ‘open to conversation,’ based on whether they have a Crayola splat on their heads.”
SoundClouders can swap these for Urbanears in-ear models, and many opt to use their own headphones or earbuds. (Kimball uses an in-ear Sony set.) “Headphones with mics in the cord are considered essential,” she adds, “because we spend so much time on Skype and Google Hangouts.”
“When I walk the halls now I see way more headphones, for obvious reasons,” says founder and Chairman Rob Glaser, the tech-audio pioneer. No single brand seems to dominate, but there are far more over-ear headphones than ear buds.
Still, he adds: “I think it’s more of a functional reality than a fashion statement; people want/need to isolate when they want to concentrate in an open-plan environment.”
An open office plan.