Can’t Concentrate Because Of Speakerphone Noise

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about speaker phones:

Our office is long and narrow, with individual offices on each side and open-air cubicles down the middle. I sit in a cubicle and I am constantly frustrated by people that use their speakerphone inappropriately. I have a cubicle on each side of me, and four offices on either side of me. They (mostly the office-dwellers) use their speakerphones to listen to voice mail messages, conference calls and to conduct phone conversations, both business and personal. Invariably, they listen at loud levels and they rarely close their office doors. This is uncalled for, especially since they all have wireless headsets and doors that close. I understand that hitting the speakerphone button is easier than putting your head set on, but couldn’t they at least close their door?

I feel that having to choose between closing your door so you can use your speaker-phone OR putting on your head set – is a small price to pay for the luxury of a private office. On an ad-hoc basis, I have politely asked them if it’s OK for me to close their door when they are using the speakerphone. Wouldn’t you think that after 5 times of me doing this, always politely, that they would get the message????!!! They haven’t. I am not the only cubicle-dweller that is annoyed by this. Besides being downright ANNOYING, it breaks my concentration and really lowers my efficiency and quality of work.I don’t know how to address the problem. If I go to my boss, I will be seen as a complainer. If I go to each individual, I am afraid they will resent me and not refer business to me. I looked online for a list of office etiquette rules that I could post in the kitchen, but didn’t find anything that was clear enough. Can you help??

Signed, In The Middle

DearĀ In The Middle:

I can understand how distracting speakerphones can be those of you in the middle. Your several attempts to signal those in private offices that the use of their speakerphones disturb your concentration was a good first step, even if those individuals could not or did not learn from that. Unfortunately, habits are not changed quickly and apparently your co-workers in private offices do not learn quickly about good manners. So what is next? You say you don’t want to be seen as a complainer and troublemaker. If that fear will keep you quiet, then there probably is nothing else to do but suck it up or grin and bear it.

But if you are irritated enough to risk being seen as a troublemaker, let me suggest a several possibilities of what you might do–

1. Have a petition signed by those of you in cubicles that states, Use headsets or close door when on speakerphone. Make copies and distribute the petition to each individual in a private office.

2. Individually meet with individual(s) in private offices and ask each of them if they would exchange places with you for a little while so that they might learn how disturbing their speakerphones are when the door is open. Then conduct a demonstration.

3. Prepare a sign requesting: close door when using speakerphone. Make it short, in caps, bold type, and large font. Make several copies. The next time someone close enough to your cubicle for you to hear a speakerphone, politely go to the individual’s door. Hand the CLOSE DOOR WHEN USING SPEAKERPHONE to him/her and close the door. Whisper a thank you as you close the door.

4. Record the individual(s) use of speakerphones for several times, perhaps a day or two. Take it with you to them. Ask if they would like to hear what you have been hearing. Turn up the volume and play it. Or take it with you to a staff meeting and see that this topic of speakerphones is on the agenda. Then play it. Or take it with you to the office manager or over all superior and explain your unsuccessful efforts to have doors closed when on speakerphones. Play it for the superior, if she/he doesn’t respond, “That distracts you from your work. I’ll see that we have a close door rule.” Do not be shy about speaking with your supervisor/office manager about how distracting speakerphones are to doing your job.Be serious and explain your unsuccessful attempts to politely deal with the problem. It is the job of a manager to make and enforce office rules that are conducive to an effective and pleasant working environment.

5. Get a speakerphone yourself, turn it up loud and use if several times. These action possibilities should prompt you to brainstorm some of your own if none of them strikes you as workable. Doesn’t your work group have office-wide meetings? Don’t you talk about communication rules; the dos and don’ts of working in close proximity? I imagine that there are other topics that also deserve office-wide attention, such as the volume of conversations you in the cubicles, private use of phones, radios, music, eating, coughing and disturbing body noises, perfumes, body odor, coworker interruptions, making the place beautiful, how assignments are made, giving instructions, cutting wasted time, wasted supplies, wasted effort, organization of space, and most of all satisfying your internal and external customers.

This is to suggest that thinking as if you were owner of your workplace is an on-going process. If you can think that way and help your co-workers think and act that way, your work will be so much more meaningful than just doing a job.Do get back to us about what you choose to do and with how it works or fails. Working together with hand, head (that includes ears), and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden