Today, I’m expanding on a topic I raised in The Acoustic Alphabet and providing ten simple rules of etiquette that will help reduce the amount of noise we create in an open plan environment.
But before I list them, I’d like to stress that a balanced approach is needed. It’s clear that if we make more noise than necessary, we’ll magnify its impact on our neighbors. But if we curtail our activities too much, it’ll restrict our own comfort and performance. After all, when taken to the extreme, the best way to reduce noise is not to do anything that causes it (don’t come to the office at all!).
The reality is that we all create some necessary noise as we complete our tasks. We have to speak to people, both in person and on the phone. We need to move around, print documents, shuffle papers, type and so on.
In other words, while following these rules will help a lot, the remainder of the acoustical burden has to be borne by design. The environment itself must support both quiet work and interaction by providing sufficient acoustic control to manage reasonable noises. Etiquette is a complement to – not a substitute for – strategies such as absorbing, blocking and covering.
So, with a balance of behavior and design in mind, here’s the list of the top ten things you can do to reduce noise in an open plan environment:
1. Use a reasonable voice level.
Don’t raise your voice, either during in-person conversations or on the phone. At the same time, you shouldn’t need to whisper. If you feel you need to, it’s a sign that your space has poor acoustics (or that you’re talking about something you shouldn’t in your workplace). A well-designed open plan space should allow you to talk using a natural voice level without overly disrupting those around you or broadcasting your conversation across an entire floor. Depending on your ‘natural’ voice level, you may need to pay more or less attention to this recommendation.
2. Don’t hold meetings in your (or anyone else’s) workspace.
If you’ve got time to schedule the meeting, plan to hold it in an appropriate setting.
3. If impromptu conversations look like they’re going to take some time, find a more isolated location.
Gotten onto a fascinating topic or into a heated debate? Move it out of your workspace (and not just to the corridor either). However, if you can’t have any sort of reasonable conversation at your workspace, it suggests a problem with acoustical design that should be addressed. If it’s uncomfortable or disruptive to speak at your desk, it will negatively impact your performance and that of those around you.
4. Don’t talk/yell past your immediate neighbor.
You have to raise your voice to talk to someone 2 to 3 workspaces away and you know your neighbor and anyone else within earshot isn’t going to appreciate it. Get up and go over to the person’s desk or store those calories and phone or communicate electronically.
5. Don’t use speaker phones in open areas.
Not only will you raise your voice level, but those around you will hear the other side of the conversation as well.
6. Manage ringers and notifications.
This applies to your desk phone, mobile phone, tablet and computer. Turn down ringer volumes, limit the number of rings, put your mobile on vibrate, don’t listen to voicemail on speaker phone, and turn down (or off) those ‘you’ve got mail’ notifications.
7. Look before you interrupt.
If someone is visibly occupied (and it can wait), return later or send a message they can reply to at a better time.
8. Don’t create unnecessary noise.
Pencil tapping, finger rapping, singing, humming and playing music over speakers won’t win over those around you.
9. Respect others’ concerns.
If someone approaches you with a noise complaint, odds are they aren’t doing it maliciously, but because the noise is genuinely bothering them. Take a moment to discuss if you can reasonably reduce it. If you can’t, then perhaps there’s a shortcoming in the acoustical performance of your space that you can both bring to the attention of your manager or facilities management.
10. Respect others’ privacy.
Sometimes you’re going to hear business or personal information not intended for your ears. Act as if you didn’t hear something you shouldn’t have (and don’t add to the noise level by repeating it).
The acoustical performance of an open plan office is by no means doomed. With some commonsense, conscientious behavior and good design, these spaces can be productive, comfortable – and even reasonably private.
We have an 8.5 x 14" etiquette poster available called ‘Help minimize noise in your office.’ To receive a copy, please contact the LogiSon Representative nearest you.