Lingering Outside My Office

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about noise outside one’s office:

I work in a courthouse. My office sits right across the hallway from a courtroom in a tight, narrow hallway. My office door must remain closed and locked at all times due to security reasons involving personal files kept inside, so even when I’m in the office I have to keep the door closed. The problem is that people tend to linger in the hallway outside my office. For some reason this has become a common loiter area for people to park and carry on conversation.

It’s incredibly noisy and distracting to me, not to mention they tend to block the door so that when I enter/exit my office I have to wade through people. I grant that since the door is always closed it’s not always obvious that is is actually an office, so I don’t know if people realize someone is in here that they could be disturbing, but I do find it inconsiderate when people congregate right outside my door to conduct business. I have tried posting a sign on the door, but it has not helped. Is there a way to politely discourage people from loitering right outside my office?

Signed, Disturbed Every Day

Dear Disturbed Every Day:

There is probably a different group of loiterers and talkers every few hours, as court activities take place. If it disturbs you, it probably disturbs the court also. Perhaps you could request a pedestal sign in the hallway saying something like, “Court business in progress, do not congregate in this area.” Or, “Please keep your voice down, court business in progress.” That kind of sign would apply whether court is in session or not.You could also ask court security staff (if any) to check that hallway regularly and move people along. If it’s monitored by a camera someone could automatically be dispatched when it’s noticed, so you wouldn’t have to call for assistance.I assume you have brought this up with the clerk of the court or other court administrator. If not, do so and see if he or she also has an idea for a solution. If those who are disturbing you are court employees, the clerk is the best person to direct them to not congregate and talk in the area.If those things aren’t helpful, you may find it useful to have a white noise machine in your office.

As you may be aware, many jury rooms use those to prevent outside noise from disturbing deliberations. It’s just a whoosh sound, so it’s not like having music playing.As the last resort, simply tell people to move further away from your door. The reason I say it is a last resort is because you don’t want to have to get up several times a day to quiet people down.

But, if you do, remember that few courthouse guests know much about what is happening behind the doors. If you open the door a bit and say, “Excuse me, could you please move down the hallway to talk?”, many people will assume you represent a judge and they’ll quickly move. If those doing the talking are court employees, you don’t need to elaborate, just say it and smile, thank them, then close the door.Your best solution though is preventing them from gathering in the first place.Best wishes to you!

Tina Lewis Rowe