It’s a dilemma faced by office workers around the world: what is the etiquette for using headphones at your desk? Immersing yourself in music and shutting yourself off from the sounds of photocopiers and chatter can help you focus and get work done – but don’t you look a little rude if you can’t hear when someone is talking to you?
Now the starched collars at Debrett’s, the 250-year-old etiquette guide, have come in with their junk. His advice? Don’t use them. Ever. Under penalty of death.
“If you work in an open office where there’s regular conversation and ideas exchanged between colleagues, don’t wear AirPods or headphones,” Liz Wyse, etiquette consultant at Debrett’s, told me. The Sunday times. “You become a much more valuable employee if you stay alert, tune in to conversations around you and contribute.”
You shouldn’t even leave an earbud in when talking to colleagues, says Wyse, for fear of appearing “half-dedicated and distracted.”
There are apparently exceptions. “If your office is very noisy and you have to do work that requires intense concentration, you can tell colleagues that you use headphones to cancel noise and gain focus. However, it would be a better option to have a breakout room or quiet room where you can work,” she said.
However, I think this seems misguided at best. Surely most workplaces would prioritize efficiency and productivity over, I don’t know, the minor inconvenience of having a colleague walk over to your desk or tap you on the shoulder to get your attention. Shouldn’t we all be taking more screen breaks? Is not the official guidance in offices to get up and move more?
Of course, it largely depends on the type of work you do. Some jobs require constant dialogue with – excuse me as I’m swallowing up the sick that come into my mouth as I write this word – stakeholders, and you’re not going to get too excited about that if you’re lost in your ‘Banging’. House’ playlist on Spotify. But some jobs — writing op-eds about bad advice from outdated etiquette guides, for example — require “intense concentration” and not being interrupted every five minutes. Nothing conveys that message better than a pair of nice big noise canceling headphones.
Whoever came up with this advice clearly hasn’t been using decent noise canceling headphones for the last few years because – newsflash! – they now let you hear your surroundings, to varying degrees depending on your usage situation. TalkThru, Ambient Aware, Apple’s transparency mode, zero in Bose’s 11 levels of noise reduction, Jabra’s HearThrough… these technology modes may have different names, but they all let you do the same thing: hear what’s going on around you without forcing your headphones off. So when you choose to enable one of these modes, you can listen to station announcements, order a cup of coffee, and yes, have a chat about the latest client revisions without going through the hassle of taking off your headphones .
That means you can focus on your work while still managing to “stay alert, tune in to conversations around you, and contribute.” Tell that to the “etiquette experts” the next time they try to shame you.
For my money, Debrett’s have missed a much bigger blunder when it comes to using headphones in the workplace: leaky sound. Open back headphones (or terribly listening loudly through rear walls) in an open office? That should be a criminal offense.
This is the one major feature missing from the AirPods Pro 2
Can’t decide between AirPods? Check out our AirPods 3 vs AirPods Pro (1st generation) And AirPods 3 vs AirPods Pro 2 equations
Our pick from the best wireless earbuds you can buy regardless of your budget
Keep them clean: how to clean airpods