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Like most these days I work in an open plan office. Distractions are par for the course but something that I find particularly hard to deal with and somewhat disrespectful is when colleagues take extended phone calls from their seats in the open office. Spending 5 or 10 minutes on the phone I can understand but I've had people take hour-long calls or start dozens of calls. We have dozens of meeting rooms and phone booths spread across the building and while they're often in high demand, there's always one available.

It would be easier if these were personal calls of course, but people are used to taking those in a phone booth. These are always business calls, but company policy prohibits taking any phone calls in open areas. As with most such policies they're ignored by a handful who end up frustrating the many.

Usually the colleagues that do this work for other teams and I don't know them at all, so how can I ask them tactfully to not take extended phone calls for all to hear? I'm looking for scripts or short phrases to use that get my point across without being unprofessional or dismissive.

Bonus question: how can I actually do so when people are still in their call? I feel that at a certain point the rudeness of inflicting your conversation upon everyone on the floor outweighs the rudeness of interrupting their phone call, but I'm not sure how to word such an interruption well. A short phrase to use that's clear and can't be argued with would be ideal.

  • Are these business calls or personal? That seems especially relevent for the bonus question. – Jeroen Sep 28 '18 at 7:32
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    @Jeroen Good point, it's always business calls (updated question). I get why it might seem to matter but typically these are always low-importance calls as important client calls are usually taken in booths to ensure privacy and clarity. – Lilienthal Sep 28 '18 at 7:51
  • Are the calls scheduled? Can your colleagues plan for them in any way, or could they be called at any random time for any reason? – user34587 Sep 28 '18 at 7:56
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    @Simon that sounds like a very specific use case that could have special rules in place to deal with though (for instance, people whose role involves using the phone for several hours a day could be grouped together away from the rest of the office). I'm assuming if that was the case in OP's office they wouldn't have a "No phone calls at your desk" policy in the first place. – delinear Sep 28 '18 at 13:55
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How do I tactfully ask a colleague to not take extended phone calls in our open plan office?

You don't, you either tackle the problem directly, or you mind your own business and let those who's job it is to enforce the no calls in open areas policies enforce them.

Or you complain to those whose role it is to enforce the rules.

If you tackle it directly bear in mind that these people probably know the rules already and are disregarding them, you would not come across as a friendly person giving advice and it might get a bit nasty and escalate into rationalisations and all the rest or worse.

I'd bring it up in a scenario where the whole staff can hear if I thought it important enough (I don't care about noise, so I wouldn't fight this fight, but for theories sake), like a meeting or first thing in the morning. This wouldn't single anyone in particular out so it's about as tactful as possible.

Perhaps something along the lines of, 'I'm having a lot of trouble concentrating with all these phone calls constantly going on, and we all know we're not allowed to be taking calls in here.'.... you may even get some supporting voices.

This would remind everyone of the rules, let them know that it's an actual issue for at least one person, and subtly imply that it may be taken further, all without singling anyone out or giving any real cause for offense. Just letting people know it's an issue should be enough to make a change at least temporarily.

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    Excellent points and an appropriate strategy in most companies. I should have clarified perhaps but didn't want to make this too specific to my situation: we're in a massive building with dozens of teams who don't interact loosely spread over the area. We've stamped out calls in our usual area with some of the advice here so now it's always the distant colleagues from teams we don't know that "wander in" who do this kind of thing. – Lilienthal Sep 28 '18 at 15:40
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    Then I would go the direct route and 'Wander' them back out again, since your area would support you as they have already agreed that it's not to be done in your area. Big difference if it's just you rather than a group of people who will back you if you take the initiative.. 'Sorry mate, we follow the policy here that none of us take phone calls, you'll have to use the appropriate facilities, it's disruptive to everyone and it's company policy.' That's not rude, it's just a heads up. – Kilisi Sep 28 '18 at 22:48
  • Which would appear to cover the bonus question if you tapped their shoulder and briefly interrupted their call. Not going to advocate wrestling the phone out of their hand or cutting the cable :-) – Kilisi Sep 28 '18 at 22:55
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Simply walk over and gently say

I'm sorry but can you please take this call into one of the side rooms, thank you.

Be nice about it. Yes, they might be lazy or flaunting the rules. But they might not know the policy or may have innocently lost track of time.

  • I would take this one step further and NOT apologize at the start of the request.They're in the wrong. It's perfectly acceptable to say "Hey, could you make your call in one of the side rooms? It's really distracting, which is why the 'no calls' policy was created. Thanks for understanding!" – Maigen Thomas Oct 3 '18 at 18:34
  • I agree with your point @MaigenThomas but my polite Britishness compelled me to apologise haha – Matthew E Cornish Oct 3 '18 at 18:37
  • I make the suggestion of not apologizing explicitly because I work with women in tech on their career, and women tend to apologize too much and for things that don't need an apology. Yours is still a great suggestion! – Maigen Thomas Oct 3 '18 at 18:39
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Bring it up privately with your manager. Assuming halfway decent management, nobody who's violating the policy will know who complained, saving some awkwardness. Alternately, approach individual violators as privately as you can, be somewhat apologetic, tell them that they're making it hard for you to concentrate. That approach might work, since some people violate inconvenient rules as long as they don't think they're causing further problems, but some violate inconvenient rules anyway. It also raises the potential for awkwardness.

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