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Ipods In The Workplace Diligence Or Distraction

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 Web 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 doing the​ same thing for years,​ and their ranks seem to​ be growing.
A recent survey by Spherion,​ a​ recruiting and staffing company,​ found that nearly a​ third of​ U.S .​
workers now listen to​ music on​ their iPods or​ similar devices while 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 can be used for entertainment while looking exactly like work to​ the​ casual observer,​ jokes Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams in​ an​ e-mail interview .​
And any entertainment you can find during a​ business meeting is​ well worth the​ risk of​ being detected.
However,​ what do bosses and colleagues think about the​ iPod invasion? That's where things can get complicated.
Closing Doors
Is listening to​ music at​ work really 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 is​ wrapped up in​ a​ Jordin Sparks song hear her telephone,​ or​ a​ fire alarm?
What about security issues? is​ it​ possible for a​ disgruntled worker to​ download sensitive corporate information 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 .​
a​ few,​ including international firms like National Semiconductor and Capital One Financial,​ have even purchased them in​ bulk for employees who can use them to​ listen to​ training sessions and other company communications at​ their desks,​ while traveling or​ even at​ home.
'You've Got to​ Be Careful'
However,​ not all companies are excited about the​ invasion of​ the​ iPod people.
Asked about iPods at​ Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) in​ Folsom,​ Calif.,​ company spokesperson Teri Munger pauses.
I have never seen anyone with an​ iPod in​ the​ workplace,​ at​ least in​ her building,​ she says.
The tiny players are not as​ innocuous as​ they look,​ some companies insist,​ and raise some serious workplace questions.
They're wonderful devices,​ says Barbara Pachter,​ an​ office-etiquette and communications specialist in​ New Jersey .​
With all of​ these kinds of​ technologies,​ though,​ it's about how you use them in​ 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 the​ like seem to​ be most commonly used among workers with more monotonous jobs,​ like filing and photocopying,​ and solitary jobs that require 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​ keep people motivated and moving,​ Wiatre says.
Not All Workplaces Right for iPod
Daniel Robin,​ a​ workplace consultant in​ Santa Cruz,​ Calif.,​ agrees that the​ devices have their place at​ some work sites.
However,​ at​ others? Not so much.
It seems fine if​ a​ person is​ flying solo,​ like an​ information-technology technician who spends a​ lot of​ time in​ transit to​ user sites,​ Robin says .​
However,​ they're safety no-nos,​ he says,​ in​ other cases.
What if​ you can't hear a​ forklift approaching? Robin asks.
Or a​ colleague complaining?
The most wonderful and irritating thing about iPods in​ the​ office,​ says Pachter,​ is​ their ability 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 people get so caught up in​ what they are listening to​ that they don't hear others 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 in​ the​ work cubicle,​ says he doubts that anyone is​ more productive with distractions than without.
Still,​ anything that makes your coworkers less likely to​ talk to​ you has to​ be a​ good thing,​ he jokes.
Dale Carnegie Training takes the​ matter a​ bit more seriously .​
The company advises caution when using iPods at​ work.
Even if​ your office sanctions iPod use,​ first consider your specific position and goals,​ Dale Carnegie's Web site reads .​
Are you new and trying to​ form good working relationships?
The iPod may isolate you and discourage interaction with others.
Setting Policies
At Intel,​ the​ decision about whether using iPods is​ appropriate is​ up to​ individual managers,​ says Munger .​
Generally,​ it's acceptable if​ work is​ not impacted,​ employees are acting in​ a​ safe manner and their cube mates are not being distracted,​ she says.
Wiatre of​ Spherion says some companies are setting policies about when and how iPods can be used on​ the​ job,​ just as​ they have placed restrictions on​ the​ use of​ cell phones and other personal technological devices.
Some of​ our clients ban them,​ he says .​
Others are setting policies specific to​ the​ job and 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​ very diverse set of​ people,​ and they listen to​ all kinds of​ different music,​ she says .​
In a​ cubicle environment where people retain their own space and need to​ focus on​ what's right in​ front of​ them,​ it​ works out great.
For software developers or​ code writers,​ anyway .​
Nealon herself leaves her iPod at​ home.
I'm a​ marketing person,​ and I​ love interacting with people around me,​ she says .​
I​ only use my iPod when I​ work out.

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