I work in an open office with about 10-12 workers, all in partitioned cubicles.

Most of us have the sound turned off on our laptops out of respect for the rest of the team.

However, one (or maybe more) person hasn't done this, so there's occasional interruptions from IM messages, error messages and the like.

Besides stalking, how can I work out which co-worker has left their volume up and how can I ask them how to respectfully stop it?

  • 8
    @JoeStrazzere My desk happens to be closer to the office walkway. If I wander deeper into the office, I encounter project managers (I'm fairly sure it's one of them).
    – user44108
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 15:37
  • 6
    Why are you concerned about just asking in general to the room, that who ever has their volume turned up to use headphones or turn it off? Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 15:55
  • 73
    If you can hear their laptop, then they can hear you speak out when the noise happens - "whomever that is, can you mute your laptop volume?" Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 16:28
  • 28
    You can try attacking yourself first. Do a loud IM ping and immediately exclaim "oh boy, I'm terribly sorry for the noise, don't know how it got turned on..."
    – Džuris
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 20:31
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    @EricLagergren I predict another question shortly, "co-worker keeps sending me cat photos for no apparent reason. How do I respectfully tell them to stop?"
    – insanity
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 6:41

5 Answers 5


I work in an open office with less than ideal acoustics, and face this issue every once in a while. I solved this once by just standing up and making a polite request myself in an informal tone, being careful not to look at anyone in particular:

Hey guys, that sounds too loud. Can we lower the volume please?

That led to everyone checking their settings, and the concerned person/s adjusting their settings. Problem solved without making a song and dance.

The next time the issue occurred, someone else stood up and made the request.

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    With all due respect and no down vote, I can see this blowing up in your face like an acme dynamite kit.
    – Neo
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 16:14
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    @MisterPositive With all due respect and no downvote, I see going to a manager to solve petty issues as a much bigger problem. My face is still in its place, by the way. Perhaps, if there is a risk of such a mundane social interaction blowing up someone's face, they should find less obnoxious colleagues to work with. :)
    – Masked Man
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 16:48
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    I see no issue with this approach. All workplaces are different, but the places I've chosen to work this would be almost too formal! Among the good natured, mickey taking folks I work with we tend to respond to a laptop suddenly chiming or ringing by calling out "How embarassing!", demanding "who was that!?" or a chorus of "shut up!"s. : ) Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 7:23
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    Good answer. In general it is better to use an approach that doesn't name names than call out an individual. If you publicly embarrass the culprit he may get defensive.
    – John Wu
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 0:08
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    "hey guys, someone's computer isn't muted and I'm distracted every time there's a new message or whatever. Could everyone check their laptops and mute or put headphones on? That would be a big help, thanks" -- if you can't make an announcement like that in your office, then you need to work on the office culture there.
    – Mirror318
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 6:28

Find a reason to use IM (not related to the volume) to ping each of your colleagues in turn. When you hear the bing, you have your culprit...

  • 2
    If you have IM, you might as well post a general "can everyone make sure their sound is muted and/or headphones plugged in, please?" which is a lot easier.
    – Erik
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 7:58

How can I work out which co-worker has left their volume up and how can I ask them how to respectfully stop it?

Have your manager send a general reminder email to your team asking them to be respectful of their fellow coworkers in regards to:

  • wearing head phones (we all don't like the same music)
  • put your mobile and other devices on mute
  • smelly foods
  • and so on and so forth

Using this approach, you are not the bad guy and no one in particular should feel singled out. Ultimately, this should help eliminate the behavior as most folks are not rude on purpose.

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    Why would you involve the manager for such a trivial matter? What kind of team is it one that solves the simplest hiccup via management? I would say a disfunctional team
    – smith
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 20:41
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    I feel like this would blow up in your face bad. At my job, the rule was that you should never involve management in trivial interpersonal issues. If you do, without talking to the other person first, you get a "we've talked" (one third of a write-up, which in turn is one third of the way to immediate dismissal).
    – user76296
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 21:24
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    Whether involving "management" is a big deal or bad idea depends a lot on the manager and the management practices. A team lead who works really closely with everyone might be the perfect person to send such a reminder. A low level executive who believes in doing everything by the book might be a bad choice. Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 23:54
  • @ToddWilcox A valid point. Almost every answer of this type could have a blend of depends to it.
    – Neo
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 14:40

I can think of two possible approaches to this.

One option is to be straightforward and approach those cubicles where you hear the noise and politely say to them:

Hey guys, sorry to bother but would you mind turning down the volume of your devices please? It's a bit loud and it can be heard from across the office.

If they are not intentionally being loud an disturbing they will surely lower the volume.

If they do not, and continue to be loud, you can try the second option, and tell your manager about the situation so he/she can kindly remind them of lowering their volume (maybe in an email as someone already suggested).

I would advise you to try the first option before you consider escalating this. Even though telling your manager will surely solve this, your coworkers may think "Huh, this fellow went straight with boss to make us quiet, if he had spoken to us I would have surely lowered my volume".

In most cases it is better to address these things in person before trying other means of getting what you want, so trying to reason with your coworkers first could be recommended.


how can I work out which co-worker has left their volume up and how can I ask them how to respectfully stop it?

You can not do this respectfully. What you are effectively doing here is informing the person that they are being disrespectful of you. That is in itself a disrespectful action since you are not the manager. You can do so with as much respect as possible, but in the end you are not the offender's manager, it is not your place to provide them direction in how they should comport themselves in the office. Therefore any confrontation, regardless of how polite you are while delivering it, is disrespectful. It is not "as" disrespectful as calling them names or doing it impolitely, but that is not the same as being respectful.

Instead what you should do is:

  • Understand the company policies regarding the use of the computer speaker
    If the use is at all in compliance with this policy then realize that you are wanting to ask them a "Favor" to change their behavior. In that case you need to approach this in that manner.

  • If the use is in violation of company policy
    You should reflect on how this is impacting your work. You are not at work to be 100% comfortable. You are there to do a job.
    If the problem is not actually impacting your ability to do your work, and there is no simple solution to solve the problem without forcing your coworker to behave differently then you should first attempt to solve the problem that way. Perhaps, headphones/earbuds for yourself, ear plugs, or a white noise generator.

  • If the problem is impacting your work and you are not able to overcome the issue on your own, then you should discuss the problem with your manager and see how they want you to handle it. Explain to them how it is impacting you, and ask if they can intercede, or if they would be ok with your attempting to ask for the change on your own.
    The reason for this is, if your attempt to confront your colleague goes sideways, hopefully your manager will have your back. People can sometimes act irrationally. If you try to confront them without first addressing the problem with your manager, chances are you are going to feel some blowback even if you were completely professional.


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