How to Deal With Loud Coworkers
I feel like I need ear protection at work. No, I don’t work at a construction site or a concert venue. I work in a regular old office, but it gets loud.
From shouted conversations, to hacking coughs, to music and ringtones, the modern office is a cacophony.
I made it through the installation of our building’s new roof last year, but lately, I’ve been getting distracted by everything. At times, I couldn’t focus, and I’ve had to get up and take a walk to clear my mind.
I thought that maybe I had misophonia, an extreme aversion to noise. But I’m not alone; other people get bothered by loud sounds, especially in open offices. And offices are getting noisier, impacting productivity and even making people leave jobs.
One way that employers can solve the problem is to allow open rooms for meetings, and allow workers to have a private space to make a call or finish a project. They can also encourage people to work from home.
If you don’t have those options, you have to get creative. You can’t turn a ruckus-filled office into a chapel overnight, but there are ways you can keep your focus (and sanity). Here are a few methods I’ve tried.
Ask people to keep it down
I’ll be the first to admit, I struggle with this. How do you work the sentence “Please don’t have speakerphone calls with your therapist at work” into a conversation?
But really, asking people directly to keep it down is going to be your best bet. People may not know about the wonder of silent notifications or headphones, and you may have to explain it to them.
Workplaces can also schedule days or times when everyone tries to keep it down. It doesn’t need to be whisper-quiet all the time, but for example, 2–3 p.m. might be a “quiet time” where people turn off their music and try to avoid making calls, so other people can concentrate.
Not just earbuds; headphones. These allow you to block out sound with ambient noise or music. (I like to use a Youtube videos of rainfall.)
Headphones also have the benefit of being visible. Now you’re starting to signal to others, “My work is important and I can’t be disturbed.”
Set a good example.
I try to stay out of the office as much as I can when I’ve got a nagging cough, and I try to keep my voice at a low volume.
I know that sometimes I can annoy other people with noise, so I try to be conscientious of the fact that I work in an open room with fifty people.
Moving to a new seat can be helpful if you’ve got a neighbor who’s less than quiet.
If your job allows it, you can take your work to a local cafe or library.
Ideally, you shouldn’t need to make adjustments to get your work done, but the reality is that putting a lot of people together creates sound.
I know my noisy office isn’t going to turn into a library any time soon. Until then, I just have to find ways to cope with it — or invest in some noise-cancelling headphones.