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There's this very good answer on desk phones. This question is about personal cell phones. Many people don't bother carrying their personal cell phone with them and just leave it on their desk (or in their bag which they leave on their desk) and then go somewhere - to a meeting or to help a coworker on another floor. Meanwhile their phone will be ringing, ringing and ringing. Sure, when the person is back, he's "oh, so sorry" and everything but before that happens the phone might have rung a gazillion times and annoy everything out of everyone around. Even if they enable vibration only mode a phone laying on the desk and vibrating makes a real lot of noise.

The best solution would be to somehow nail the phones to people. I have no idea how this can be done in case of personal cell phones. Reaching for the phone and shutting it off or something looks really rude and also sometimes requires finding the phone in the bag which doesn't feel good at all.

What can be done to prevent people from leaving their cell phones ringing on their desks?

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I have this Dilbert comic hanging outside my cube. –  Dan Neely Jul 24 at 17:55
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Short term solution: You can hit the volume rocker on the side of most phones to silence the ring but have the call proceed as if nothing else had happened. I am not comfortable with touching other people's phones at all but if its bothering a lot of people, its a viable option. –  jmathew Jul 25 at 0:58
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Smart phones should be programmed (by the providers) to go in to the not-available mode when the phone is not moving (e.g. its on the desktop) and has not been answered after 5-7 bells in not-available mode: - vibration is turned off automatically - ringing sound is turned off automatically - Auto 5 min repeating notification beep to help locate the phone can exit from this not-available mode on: - receiving an sms to become available - receiving a signal from a paired blue-tooth device etc. - if the phone is moved (g-sensors) –  Irfan TOOR Jul 25 at 11:47

7 Answers 7

What can be done to prevent people from leaving their cell phones ringing on their desks?

Create an "Official Unattended Ringing Phone Holding Pen".

In a past office, I got a cardboard box and stuck an old towel inside. We placed it in a location away from most people. Whenever a phone was ringing off the hook and the owner wasn't around, we'd put the phone inside the box, cover it with the towel, and close the lid.

We then put a notice on the owner's desk instructing her/him where to find her/his phone. I forget the exact verbiage, but it was something along the lines of "Since you weren't around and left us to deal with your ringing phone, we have taken good care of it..." It also had a picture of a noisy phone left ringing.

We did this with both cell phones and desk phones as well. Doing so fit in with the company culture at the time. It was the kind of office that tolerated lots of "pranks" (filling an office with balloons while the office owner was on vacation, etc)

The message was usually received with a laugh, and while it didn't stop the problem completely, the number of incidents went way down.

As @IanHolstead correctly points out, in some cultures/contexts using humor this way wouldn't be received well, and some folks wouldn't want you touching their cell phones. (On the other hand, if it were me, I'd try it at least once and see if the folks leaving their phones ringing took the hint. Then, I'd ask forgiveness if necessary. That's just me - your mileage may vary)

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@Ian if you're that uncomfortable with someone else touching your cell phone, you shouldn't leave it unattended. Sure, people aren't so logical, but still... –  Tim S. Jul 24 at 20:42
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Rather than taking the holding pen to the phone, you can take the holding pen to the phone. That way you haven't touched the phone. I once put a (totally clean) bin on top of the phone, and I joked about it afterwards as being a Cone of Silence. –  Andrew Grimm Jul 25 at 3:30
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@AndrewGrimm: building a desktop Faraday cage to block the phone signal would be a pretty good project in the right kind of workplace. –  Steve Jessop Jul 26 at 10:34

This isn't really any different from any other practice that disturbs people, and the answer is: "Talk to the people who are doing it".

The next time someone does this, go to them and politely explain that they left their phone on their desk, it rang and disturbed people. There's a pretty good chance they don't realize the problem. If they do it again, then point out they did it again. It should be simple enough for them to silence their phone if they are going to leave it.

That should take care of most cases, though you may have to do this a few times for more forgetful people. If anyone is a really persistent offender, or refuses to do anything about it, get someone in authority involved. Explain the expectation - take the phone with you or silence it.

In my personal opinion, if it's technically feasible, its perfectly OK to silence a phone that has been left unattended.

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The effectiveness of talking to people depends on the environment. If you have 20 people in an open-plan office and, on average, people only forget that their phone's on their desk once a month, that still means that there'll be an unattended phone ringing away almost every day. –  David Richerby Jul 24 at 19:32

I find it sad that everyone takes life so seriously, so I will again add my bit with a fun answer - for those who believe it fits their work atmosphere, for sure!

So you have this college of yours who leave the phone at the desk, and rings all the time. And it's annoying. And then the workmate comes, and when you mention it you got a "Oh sorry", but he does that again.

Surely you can use one of those serious answers, but if you are up to it, why not have fun with ...

A HUG!

Yea, go hug him! Make a fun drama!

 Maaaaan we thought we were gonna hear that phone forever, we are SO HAPPY YOU ARE BACK!!!

He keeps doing it? Hey, ask other people to join the hug! Make it awkward!

You never know, you might end up even laughing about an issue ;)

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Now that's great social engineering. –  sharptooth Jul 25 at 7:25
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Personal touch is high-risk in workplaces. –  djechlin Jul 25 at 17:38
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@djechlin That's the problem. I speak about hugging someone and it might be dangerous in some places? I am afraid that's not thew world I want to be in. I believe in fun, in humour friendly work environments. And that's how I will suggest to deal with issues like this. –  Mr Me Jul 27 at 17:24
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Did you just ban logic from non-programming answers? Okay, I don't know how to talk to you anymore. I'm done. –  djechlin Jul 27 at 17:38
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@djechlin: Why interpret this great answer literally? If can't afford a hug - go without a hug, just display disproportional collective joy when the person gets back and this will likely do the job just as well. –  sharptooth Jul 30 at 11:45

My thought is that for real success, you need to create a practice that people can actually do and remind them of it a the time that they should be doing it. Saying "don't leave your cell phone behind and ringing loudly" is a behavior pattern that is hard to break, as it requires people to remember to take the cellphone or stop the ringing, at a number of times during the day and under a number of different conditions.

Instead, I'd get folks together to talk about a practice that may fix the problem (being near someone else's phone, while it's ringing, and being stuck listening to it). Tricks I can think of:

  • Turn your phone to vibrate when you enter the workplace. If you can't notice it vibrating in your purse/bag/briefcase - then you should have it in a pocket or next to your monitor - that'll promote 2 things - people seeing the phone and taking it with them, and less annoying phones as vibrations are less distracting.

  • Have a phone basket for the location, then at least if someone's phone is ringing, and it's in the basket, someone can click the button that sends the call to voicemail. Still annoying, but at least controllable.

  • Try to actually keep people and phones together by having "do you have your cell phone?" signs EVERYWHERE - the bathroom, the hall, conference rooms, the kitchen, anywhere that people may be for more than 30 seconds.

Usually with behavior change, it's better if the thing you do is encourage a positive alternate action with a specific trigger (come in the door to the office, turn your phone on vibrate, leave the office, turn it back to ring). But it's hard to dictate so specifically that you are overconstraining the problem. For example, I'd get ticked at "just keep your phone in your pocket" because as a female worker, I am often stuck with pants and dresses that don't have pockets. But the rule "have it on you, or have it quiet" would be fine, I'm glad to just leave it on vibrate 100% of the time.

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The best way to deal with it is to let them deal with it. Run to their meeting and tell them that their phone is ringing.

Point out you wouldn't bother usually, but since it is probably set on vibrate at work but still ringing, you thought it must be someone from their VIP list and they should get the call.

Repeat as often as neccessary. Same warning as for Joe's answer, people might not like your humor.

If you use a jammer, just some seconds to stop the ringing, you should never ever tell anyone because it will most probably kill off all other phone calls around you too. Faraday Cage around the phone could work, use a bigger cage if it is in a bag.

Ask them to change their ringtone and since you hear it more often than them include a list of songs you like. :p

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Short of confiscating the phones at the door, installing a jammer (illegal, at least in the US), or turning the building into a Faraday Cage, you can't completely prevent it from happening.

Communicate the issue to the office, preferably from someone at a sufficiently high level that they have some amount of "power", via an office-wide email.

While in the office, please remember to set your mobile phones to vibrate or a very low volume. Sound carries a long distance in our office and after arriving at work you may still have your phone's ringer set to a very high level, which may disturb other people in your area.

This could also be reinforced at a regularly-scheduled team meeting.

After a few of these reminders, if people still aren't getting the hint, a one-on-one meeting with their supervisor to address the issue.

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One can put it on a bean bag or pillow and reduce the vibrating desk problem. I used to work in a Faraday Cage - not for science, but for security. It was annoying on many levels, but delightful from the perspective of annoying cell phone behavior. –  bethlakshmi Jul 24 at 13:38

As they return to their desk pretend to be talking on their phone and hurridly put it down. Then you can make a suitable comment such as: "I didn;t realise you were looking for another job" "Your girlfriend sounds nice" "Sorry to hear about the 'bank thing'" "The clinic have your results ready, bet you'll be more careful next time" or similar

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