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I have an IBM model M keyboard and I would like to use it at work. I work in an open workspace setting.

Do you guys consider it bad etiquette to use one of these at work? Personally I wouldn't mind it if someone next to me used one.

Does anyone here use a clicky clacky keyboard at their work?

The keyboard in question is a personal keyboard, not provided by the office. I'm more or less curious about the noise the keyboard generates, not if it's acceptable to bring in an outside keyboard into the office.

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People will let you know if it bothers them. It's very considerate of you to be thinking of this before hand, however. +1 – AndreiROM Mar 23 at 17:42
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If someone is willing to work in an open workspace then they deserve the noise that will inevitably inflicted on him. One can't be surprised when people are noisy. and noisy equipment is no different. – Christopher Estep Mar 23 at 17:50
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On which planet someone have an open office architecture and all employees going quietly with their day. I have colleagues, who take conference calls on speakerphone while sitting in a cubicle 2 or 3 cells down from mine. I'd rather have them use an hammer on clickety keyboard than those conference calls. Plus keyboard sounds can easily be pushed into one's subconscious mind, as they basically are white noise. – MelBurslan Mar 23 at 18:18
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I took a keyboard to work once, someone stole it. – Kilisi Mar 24 at 1:11
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I think the right answer will be different depending on the culture of the country where you work. In the Netherlands I wouldn't hesitate to bring a loud keyboard to work (I'm using one right now) since the culture here is to speak your mind and let people know if they are bothering you. In Belgium however, I wouldn't do it, since the culture there is to suffer in silence and then complain behind your back to others. – Cronax Mar 24 at 7:34
up vote 51 down vote accepted

We used to have one loud keyboard at the office, and honestly, it was quite disturbing. Of course, you can get used to it, but it might ruin some people's concentration for a while (I know I was affected).

Since this is your personal keyboard, your colleagues have one more reason to oppose you if enough of them are disturbed.

So do the nice thing: bring your keyboard, type a little with it, then ask people around you if you are disturbing. Chances are your colleagues will be OK with it. If not, you can take it back home with no harm done.

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This is the "It's better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission" approach... and I don't like it. Many people will try to be kind of nice and sheepishly say "ya, no problems"... when in reality it's silently making them resent you and your darn obnoxious keyboard. These keyboards are loud, and in close proximity, very annoying and distracting for most folks. – SnakeDoc Mar 23 at 20:58
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@SnakeDoc That's not how I read this answer. The answer is suggesting that, since nobody really knows if it'll bother them until you've tried it, the only way to find out is to try it for a bit and then ask. If I ask someone if something bothers them and they say "no"... that's their problem; and I imagine if you have an office of 6 or 7, if nobody is bothered enough to say something, then it's not a big problem. – Joe Mar 23 at 21:16
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@SnakeDoc people who say "ya, no problems" no matter what happens, will have a hard life keyboard or no keyboard. They will constantly suffer when their colleagues decide to open a window, tune the heater or close the curtains. Clearly, if the OP came to my office with his keyboard, I would tell them it's distracting if they asked me. – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 23 at 21:26
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@DmitryGrigoryev That is incredibly black-and-white thinking. Many people will be reluctant to outright say that something like this is bothering, whether it's because they're put on the spot or because they'd feel bad for preventing someone from using his preferred keyboard. But they'll still resent you for it, even when they never work up the nerve to say something later because it's even more awkward then. Just because you would speak up, that doesn't mean that everyone else will, nor does that make those who silently fume a bunch of workplace whiners. – Lilienthal Mar 23 at 21:55
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@SnakeDoc If those people are too feeble to be honest with the OP about something that is honestly not a big deal to say "it's distracting" to, then it is their own problem. We can't read minds, if they lie and say it's "OK" then it's their own fault. – SpaghettiCat Mar 24 at 11:58

Note: I'm writing about mechanical switch keyboards here. Buckling spring keyboards like the Model M are similar, but are not identical, to the below. I could not find sufficiently good information about the Model M, so I treat it as similar to the below keyboards.

Polygon has a nice writeup of mechanical keyboards which notes that nearly all have a maximum decibel level of 56-57 dB. That's not very loud, but it is above the level of typical office noise. Remember that dB is a logarithmic scale, so an increase in 10 dB is actually a multiple of 10 increase.

They list the office they work at as having an ambient noise level of 46 dB. That's 1/10th the noise level of the mechanical keyboards. 50dB is the level of a quiet street, and 60dB is typical conversation - so it's somewhere in between, but close to "conversation" level.

As such, that's a good guide I suspect. If your office is such that someone having a conversation a desk away is noticeable, then it's probably too quiet for a mechanical keyboard. If someone having a conversation is not particularly bothersome, then you're likely in the clear.

But, as another answer notes - if you decide to bring it in, make sure to check with your coworkers pretty early on after you've brought it in (maybe a day later) to make sure it's not bothersome; and perhaps check again a week or so later. That way you don't leave them festering in annoyance with you.

Polygon dB level chart, slightly modified to include keyboards:

  • Absolute silence: 0
  • Rustling leaves: 20
  • Quiet whisper: 30
  • Quiet home: 40
  • Brian's office: 46
  • Membrane Keyboard: 47
  • Quiet street: 50
  • Mechanical Keyboard: 57
  • Conversation: 60
  • Inside car: 70
  • Car: 80
  • Motorcycle: 90
  • Diesel truck: 100
  • Power tools: 110

Microsoft keyboard dB level from PC World

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Worth pointing out that even in very conversation-heavy open plan offices, the sound of a mechanical keyboard might still be very out-of-place and distracting. – Lilienthal Mar 23 at 21:50
    
Worth also noting that keyboard with Cherry-MX mechanical keys (and maybe others) can be fitted with o-rings on the key shafts to dampen the bottom-out noise. Ideally, a skilled typist won't be bottoming out the keys to produce that peak 57-dB "clack" in the first place, but for those who like to really hammer on the keys, o-rings can provide a soft bottom to significantly reduce the noise of a mechanical keyboard - very nearly to the level of a rubber-dome board. – J... Mar 24 at 0:49
    
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When you say that 56-57dB is "somewhere in between [50dB and 60dB], but close to [60dB]", you're forgetting what you wrote a few sentences earlier about decibels being a logarithmic scale. It's actually about half-way between, in terms of power. – David Richerby Mar 24 at 4:01
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@dwoz: Sound is my daily job, and I look at frequency spectra all the time. There's no "special area" in the spectrum, and besides impulse sounds are all over the spectrum. They are strongly temporally localized, which necessarily means they cannot be localized in the spectrum. – MSalters Mar 24 at 12:41

I have a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Brown switches. I absolutely adore it. I love the feel of a real mechanical keyboard and I love the sound it makes.

But I work from home. If I was working in an open-plan office, there's absolutely no way I would bring this keyboard in. As pointed out in another answer, mechanical keyboards are loud. Far, far louder than would be appropriate in many open-plan offices.

Unless the office is already very loud (regular ongoing conversations in the open space), it is inappropriate for you to bring your keyboard. This isn't a case where you should try it out and watch people's body language. This is a case where you should simply not even try it.

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+1. Open-plan offices just aren't the right environment for this. I'd like to be known as a reliable high-performer, not "the guy with the mechanical keyboard". – Lilienthal Mar 23 at 21:47
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The Cherry browns are quiet switches. Those are the keyboards that I bring to offices, as Cherry reds are no better than membranes for extended typing. The Cherry blues are the loud ones. – dotancohen Mar 24 at 10:30

You can't possibly know everything that will bother your colleagues as it varies from person to person.

If your personal keyboard helps, bring it in and use it. At the same time, be sensitive to any signals from colleagues about the noise. If you start to notice looks or other body language, be proactive on it and ask about their feelings on it then.

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I used to share a scrum pod with programmers who use a variety of mechanical keyboards. One sitting behind me switched from a Cherry MX keyboard to a Model M part-way through my time in that space, and the increase in noise was definitely noticeable, but I never felt like any of the mechanical keyboard use was a real issue.

I'd suggest following @Dmitry's advice, using the keyboard for a day or so, and then getting some feedback from your coworkers.

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I think the answer to this question hinges on a few environment specifics that aren't addressed in your question.

What is the current noise level in your open workspace?

If your workspace tends to be very quiet then introducing a new noise source is probably going to be disruptive. If your workspace tends to be relatively noisy then a loud keyboard will probably just blend into the other sounds. In general the quieter your workspace the less I'd encourage you to introduce a new noise source.

Do you think your coworkers will speak up if something bothers them?

You know your office environment better than we do. If you know person X tends to avoid confrontation and/or won't tell you if your actions bother them then you need to be more careful about introducing potentially disruptive changes. If your coworkers are the type of people who will let you know when you're disturbing them you can be more confident about asking if something will disturb them. Also you should keep in mind if you're the boss or in a position of power over your coworkers then you should consider how your position will influence their willingness to be honest about the new keyboard.

Quieter isn't universally more productive.

Some people work better with some sort of white/background noise, others prefer silence, and some prefer a mix. If you understand the noise level that the people prefer while working then you will have insight into how suitable your keyboard is at work.

Remember the typewriter?

Typewriters were the norm in offices 30-40 years ago and people were productive. Some newspapers even started piping in the sounds of typewriters a couple of years ago as a productivity boost. I'm not sure if it worked or not, but I can easily envision this, or your keyboard, just becoming white noise.


In summary you should evaluate your office conditions and make the appropriate determination based on your individual situation.

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I don't see any issue with this whatsoever. I think you should be productive in anyway possible. Even if the keyboard is loud, I think those around you will get used to it.

My two cents.

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Being productive includes enabling your co-workers to be productive. – hyde Mar 24 at 6:59

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