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Firms debate headphone use at the office

For some people, wearing headphones in the office is a way to block out chatter and get work done. For others, they are big “do not disturb’’ signs on their coworkers’ ears that make it harder to share ideas.

As companies do away with offices and lower cubicle walls to create a more collaborative - and noisy - environment, more employees are popping in earbuds or clamping on noise-canceling headsets. Frequent users swear by them as a way to increase concentration, but earphones can also promote isolation, underscoring a growing debate on whether plugging in to your own personal soundtrack increases productivity or undermines communication.

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