My job means that lots of people want to talk to me or for me to go to meetings.

I am frequently sitting at my desk on a meeting with my AirPods in (I have long hair, so they aren't obvious) talking to a client or colleagues when people approach me to try and talk to me about a pressing concern they have.

This doesn't look great in front of clients, and means that I also often have to drive off persistent colleagues; who don't get the hint immediately.

There isn't a quiet place in the office to sit when in these meetings; so that option is out.

I love using my airpods, and I would rather not have to switch to a big clunky headset, so ideally I would like to find another way forward.

  • 55
    People not able to understand you're on a call, and people understanding you're on a call but still want to talk to you - these two are very different scenario. Which one is the problem for you? Feb 2 at 9:56
  • 7
    Does making the "call" gesture work (thumb and pinky outstretched on ear)? If they still don't leave they obviously think their concern is so important that you need to quit your call.
    – jwsc
    Feb 2 at 10:00
  • 12
    You write, colleagues don't get the hint immediately. How are you hinting? Feb 2 at 12:42
  • 5
    Could you tie your hair back, or tuck it behind your ears, to make the AirPods more visible? Feb 2 at 23:58
  • 4
    @JMK Read the question, not just the title. (He isn't pretending to be on calls, he's actually on calls - it just doesn't look like it, which is the problem) Feb 3 at 13:11

8 Answers 8


ideally I would like to find another way forward.

Hang a sign next to your desk/cubicle that says:

"I'm on a call right now."

or similar verbiage.

  • 84
    ... and never take the sign down.
    – toolic
    Feb 2 at 14:21
  • 38
    This is a common enough thing now that "On a zoom call sign" is an entire category on Etsy (other retailers and call providers are available) Feb 2 at 14:44
  • 12
    Or get a cowboy yat or sombrero that has an "on-call" sign on it. Like Homer Simpson's conversation hat.
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 2 at 19:44
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    I wholeheartedly agree with the solution but I cannot upvote unless the verbiage is switched to something less confrontational. "Shh" has some serious second-grade library energy. "In a meeting" would suffice.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Feb 2 at 20:24
  • 6
    @toolic It sounds tempting but that's exactly the wrong thing to do. If you always have the sign on people will know that you are not always on a call, and so they will disturb you whether it is on or not. Signs like this only work if people know you mean it. Feb 4 at 17:39

Busy light

For each of these questions there is a tech gadget :)

I will suggest the Luxafor Flag (or other brand, but I think they were first on this idea). It's a small luminescent USB flag connected to your computer.

RED means you're busy, GREEN means you're available. That's it, nothing more (I don't like the way they advertise it : deepwork guaranteed, etc.).

My previous school tech team used it and they were actually happy with this system.

But it needs that people understand this system : otherwise they still gonna bother you even if the light is RED. For those who understand the system but still want to bother you, this won't help you neither.

  • 13
    Along a similar line, there's also a lot of cheap "message lightboxes" of various sizes you can leave a custom message on, and just switch it on when you're on a call - something like "ON CALL WITH CLIENT - PLEASE COME BACK LATER" might impart to the visitor the importance of not being disturbed.
    – mclayton
    Feb 2 at 10:44
  • 3
    Not a bad suggestion at all, but I think it would take a while for OP's coworkers to realize that the red specifically means "I'm on a call" and not anything else
    – Josh Part
    Feb 2 at 19:41
  • 2
    I'm sorry but I just had to downvote. Why would anyone spend money on a gadget that does the exact same thing as a post-it note with "I am in a meeting" or "do not disturb" written on it? Not everything needs electronic solutions.
    – terdon
    Feb 3 at 11:57
  • The general term for such a gadget is called a "busylight". There's many brands of busylights, Luxafor being one of them. I'm not sure if promoting certain brands is allowed here but personally I would keep the answer brand neutral.
    – Ivo
    Feb 3 at 12:14
  • 3
    In many office settings, one's laptop (and therefore this flag) will be below the top of the cube wall, so people approaching to engage in conversation won't even see it. And it's not visible if you approach from behind. In a completely open "no walls" office where people can only approach from the front/side, it may work, but it's a $40 experiment. A "busy light" needs to be mounted high, directly in the line of vision for anyone approaching.
    – alroc
    Feb 3 at 13:55

If it is clearly visible on the computer screen that you are in a conference, then you can re-arrange your desk in such way that people can see your screen. If they still bother you during conferences, it either means that there is something very urgent, OR that they are real jerks.

On the other hand, if you are the only one who can help those people AND you are never available, then the problem is on your side. Either you are really overloaded (you need to unload / delegate some work), or you need to do better time management. Or both.

In the latter case, the easiest solution is to train people to organize meetings with you for whatever they need - even if the meeting is only 5 min. You will have to make sure you respect the beginning of each meeting, so people will begin to trust you.

Alternatively, use some "bug tracker" or "task manager", where people ask questions, and you provide answers - in a professional way. A simple instant messenger solution might be insufficient for professional work.

  • 1
    Although another answer was accepted, I really like the suggestion of encouraging organized meetings, even if OP is not overloaded. By forcing visitors to take a little extra time to consider the purpose of their visit and prep for it, visits become more productive and in some cases go away when the question gets resolved as a result of the prep.
    – Theodore
    Feb 2 at 18:02
  • 15
    Rearranging the desk so people can see the screen may not work if there is classified/IP/salary information being shared. And letting passer's by see your screen can allow meeting members see the other people, which could be a distraction or otherwise not be professional. Delegating, scheduling meetings, task managers, and even chat apps are definitely good options, even if they aren't a 100% solution. Feb 2 at 18:42
  • 4
    "If it is clearly visible on the computer screen that you are in a conference, then you can re-arrange your desk in such way that people can see your screen." At this point, the cure may be worse than the problem.
    – Mast
    Feb 2 at 20:35
  • The computer screen does not need to be visible from the entire building at the same time. It only needs to be visible enough to the people approaching ;)
    – virolino
    Feb 3 at 5:41
  • @Mast: example of setup which is not worse than the problem: the side of the monitor (or even the monitor slightly away from the door) faces the door, and the back of the camera is towards the door. In this way, people which are not close enough cannot see anything on the screen, and the remote participants to the meeting cannot see anybody at all - besides OP' face and his beautiful hair :) .
    – virolino
    Feb 3 at 5:53

You can always signal with your hands that you're busy on a call.

  • 5
    This is the answer that was most obvious to me from the moment I read the question; I'm surprised it wasn't posted earlier. Have my upvote. A 🤙 followed by waving the person away should work just fine.
    – Keiji
    Feb 3 at 13:34

I know you mentioned you're using wireless earbuds, but for the benefit of other people who come here with the same general question:

Many commonly used office phone systems have accessories designed for this precise problem. Several people in my office have this status indicator light that attaches to their headset's dock. It lights up whenever a phone call is active and turns off when you hang up. Mount it up as high as you can so people can see it long before they approach your desk. Most of the models I've seen connect directly to your phone or headset, but there are some newer ones (like this one from Poly) that connect to your computer and use software to determine when you're on a Teams/Zoom/etc. call.

I have two tips to help ensure that your co-workers respect your notification light. First, make sure that the light is automatic. If it's manually controlled, people won't know if you're actually on the phone or if you're just trying to discourage interruptions. You'll still have people walking up and asking you if you're on a call. Second, when you find one that works well, order them for your whole team. One person with their own special signaling mechanism is likely to get ignored but when a dozen people sitting near each other are all using the same system, it's much more clear that this is a serious thing that should be respected.


Just move your hair aside so they can see your airpods and understand you're in a meeting. Point to them if necessary, no need to make a complex solution.

  • 19
    People be wearing in ear headphones all the time. They may be listening to music, they may be in a call, the phones may be set to noise canceling.. couple of options Feb 2 at 12:44
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    Disagree - I have Long hair, as you move your head naturally, unless it's tied up, your hair will fall naturally to cover your ears. Feb 2 at 19:13
  • 9
    Air-pods are small enough that they aren't super obvious, even without concealing hair (and that was by design).
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 2 at 19:48
  • The presence of a headset of any form does not reliably imply that someone is in a call, and Air-pods (and Pixel Buds, and whatever all the other companies call their knockoffs) are not reliably visible even if you know what to look for (and not everyone does). Feb 2 at 20:19
  • 2
    @alroc "listening to something" (ie music/video) is very different from being on a teams call. Having headphones in is now fairly common and is no longer the de-facto do-no-disturb indicator (if it ever truly was) - some people think of it that way, most don't.
    – freedomn-m
    Feb 3 at 14:21

My solution in the past has been to make sure that my desk faces towards the direction that most people are likely to approach me from, rather than towards a wall.

That way I can see people coming and make the necessary eye contact to let them know that I'm busy (or to wave them off if required), and they're able to see that I'm on the phone.

I also used a telephone handset rather than a headset. This may or may not be practical for you.


Every answer to the problem is going to be more "clunky" than your current arrangement.

The cause of the problem is that nobody knows at a glance whether you're actively on a call or not, or even has reason to think you might be.

The most straightforward solution, unfortunately, is to use some kind of visible equipment which is held or worn during the call, and replaced when not on a call.

It may be possible to use some kind of indicator beacon instead, which you switch between engaged and available when starting and finishing a call, but it's a clunky solution which you risk forgetting to switch (if it isn't fully automatic), and which others may not even understand the meaning of.

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