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Here's a problem: There is a cubicle farm office where most people don't need to use a telephone much during their workday and silence would be great for productivity. Yet sometimes people will have private calls, often unplanned, and there's a need for some place they could have such calls without disturbing others.

There are currently the following options:

  1. Staircases - good, but there're not so many staircases in the building and they are not close to every person and also sound spreads there pretty well, so once there's more that one person on a given staircase they start putting sound pressure on each other and so the call becomes not very private.
  2. Meeting rooms - good, but again there are not so many meeting rooms in the office and they are often used for meetings (so unusable for calls at that time).

I gave it some a thought and it looks like the extreme perfect solution would be some kind of telephone booth with increased level of sound insulation - it takes little space, it can be planted anywhere and it makes long calls not very convenient (because there's nothing to sit on inside) and it looks like it solves the problem.

How is this problem typically addressed? Are there commonly known solutions such as a telephone booth I describe?

7

In cases where extreme quiet is truly desirable in the "cubicle farm", I've typically seen two solutions.

The less desirable of the two seems to be the most common. The company provides nothing special, and folks simply wander out into the common hallways to conduct their personal calls. While it isn't completely private, most people don't pay attention to the random hallway conversations between workers, or when workers are on their phones.

The more desirable of the two is when the company provides sufficient small conference rooms. Because they understand that privacy is occasionally necessary in a "cubicle farm" scenario, these companies dedicate a number of 1-2 person conference rooms to small, private needs. (Often they are called "apartment offices", and are used for folks visiting from other divisions who need an office, chair, desk, and phone). Good companies have enough of these scattered throughout the buildings such that at least one is usually unoccupied at any given time.

In cases where such extreme cubicle quiet isn't truly necessary (the majority of companies I have seen), people simply conduct personal calls in their cube, and try to be relatively quiet about it.

(I hate cubicles. A misguided, terrible invention, in my opinion. But that's another topic for another time.)

  • 1
    I've seen the second option in a couple (semi-enlightened -- they still had cubes, after all, so not fully-enlightened) places. We call them "phone booths" where I work now. As a bonus, when we had the need to accommodate a nursing mother (needed a private place to pump), we already had the structure -- just covered the window in the door and we were good to go. – Monica Cellio Oct 29 '13 at 15:51
7

At least one Microsoft building has small rooms tucked into hallways for this purpose. They have soundproof doors, comfy chairs, a landline for you to make local calls, and power. I have used one for a longish call when I was working in a team room and it was perfect. It was not near the kitchen or the bathroom, so people were unlikely to be nearby, but the walls and door did a good job of keeping other sounds out anyway.

Much better than a staircase, a break room, or taking up a whole meeting room.

6

If the goal is a quiet workplace open plan offices are the wrong design. They are to provide ease of communications, and to provide the exact opposite of quiet. If normal communication creates a bad working environment, then the office space needs to be reconfigured.

But what you are asking about are small rooms provided to allow privacy for certain phone calls. They should be sparsely furnished so as not to invite use as meeting rooms or visitor spaces. They typically have a phone, chair, and a shelf that serves as a writing surface. Yes a chair is required so that they don't have to juggle everything while taking notes during the call. They do require a light, but no plugs to discourage people from setting up shop in the space. They door should lock from the inside so that others realize the room is occupied. The walls should be real (not made of the same material as the cubes) and go all the way to the ceiling. The walls shouldn't be completely transparent, so they do provide some privacy. If the doors open out into the hall, the rooms can be smaller, but that can be a hazard to those walking by.

They can either be centrally located on each floor, or scattered throughout the building. Both arrangements have pluses and minuses. Central location means everybody walks, but increases the likelihood that when you need a room one will be available. Spread out locations may minimize walking for many people, but does mean that if the closest one is occupied, you will have to keep looking.

1

I feel this has a lot to do with the local custom/culture of your geographic location.

Apart from all other suggested answers, the best solution I have seen in the USA is a few paper pin ups on hallways saying "private phone calls in elevator banks only". I have seen a few people ask other people who are on their personal calls 'can you take this conversation to the elevator bay ?'.

If your building doesn't have elevators may be a break out area on the floor ? If there are other cubes adjoining the break out area, and it disturbs other employees then the only other way I see is to let everyone know that 'private phone calls outside the building only'.

  • @JoeStrazzere Sadly, not a lot of companies I worked with were willing to invest in a conference room for private calls and all hallways from within the cubicle farms only led to the elevator banks ergo that was the best solution I saw, IMO. Obviously, YMMV and its varying towards being sad. Which, I guess, I am afraid, no body can do anything about. – happybuddha Oct 30 '13 at 15:35
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    Well, it's brilliant, in a misanthropic way. Sending people to the building core with their cell phones is the best way to ensure that either their battery doesn't last long, or that the call gets dropped by the cell carrier. – Wesley Long Nov 2 '13 at 6:11

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