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I have already examined the Etiquette on loud boardroom meetings? question and while they have a few similarities, mine has an additional issue (please read below).

In my office, my desk happens to be positioned adjacent to four meeting rooms. When people close the doors the noise levels are low enough that they don't bother me. However, two majors issues occur multiple times every day:

  1. More often than not, the meeting room doors open are left open.
  2. Sometimes people leave the rooms but then continue their meetings outside right behind my desk (sometimes as many as 5 people talking loudly within a metre of me.)

This has been going on for some months now and is consistently annoying and disruptive. The problem is that I'm pretty much on the bottom of the corporate hierarchy and most of the people who use the meeting rooms behind me are above me (though not CEO-type level). Also, a large number of different people do it, not just the same one or two employees.

My concern is that asking them to move away (I would feel particularly awkward about this one) or for me to get up and shut a door would be considered rude. My manager would be sympathetic, but I'm not sure what she could do about it either. What's the best way for me to remedy this situation?

  • 31
    Why would it be considered rude to ask people who have access to a private conference room to close the door? – user8365 May 3 '16 at 2:48
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    go ahead and move your deck to storage room B – Rigolletto May 3 '16 at 11:08
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    Maybe you should add more beans and dairy to your diet; that'll keep people from congregating around your desk. – Crashworks May 3 '16 at 11:21
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    Sadly, this problem will only get worse. The trend (in my industry at least) is "open office plans" to encourage multiple ad-hoc meetings to improve collaboration and productivity. The only solution my coworkers have been able to come up with is for everybody to bring their IPods to work and wear ear-buds all day. – Michael J. May 3 '16 at 13:31
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    I always liked this sign "Genius at work, do not disturb, Genius is already quite disturbed as it is." – Richard U May 3 '16 at 18:30
84

There is nothing wrong with shutting the door, they should be closing it themselves. That won't help the people talking next to your desk, but here's a very simple solution.

Print out a nice sign and put it up.

"Quiet please, meetings are in progress."

Never underestimate the power of a sign, I put up a sign once and when I left that job years later, not only was the sign still there but it had been replaced more than once (not by me) when it had faded or whatever.

  • 58
    In addition to this excellent suggestion (also worked for me), try requesting your manager to ask building services to install door hinges that automatically close the door for the meeting rooms. This will have many benefits [a] privacy of meetings [b] climate control cost savings [d] security and finally of course [e] noise abatement. – Burhan Khalid May 3 '16 at 6:59
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    Yes, a sign is definitely the way to go here—rather than attempting to be friendly and polite to different people every day about the same irritating aspect of your work space. The sign will stay polite; you won't, unless you're Superman. – Wildcard May 3 '16 at 8:42
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    If it gets bad enough with particular groups, get a bungee cord ready and just tie it to the door knob and they'll get the hint. Actually, why not request building maintenance and install a door hinge that closes automatically? If they think it costs too much, just ask them how many hours of your work would they need to disrupt before it costs more than the hinge. – Nelson May 4 '16 at 1:39
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    @Burhan Khalid: what happened to [c] ? – user96551 May 4 '16 at 7:33
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    A sign is an obvious solution...but the proposed sign content is brilliant. It addresses the problem, yet the people causing the problem think the policy is on their behalf. – user45590 May 4 '16 at 11:00
38

1) It's legitimate to walk over and unobtrusively close the door, unless there are air conditioning problems or some other reason the door needs to stay open,.. Or if your culture doesn't permit that, wait for a pause in the conversation and ask "Excuse me, could we close this?"

2) It _should be OK to say "hey, folks, no offense but I'm having trouble concentrating with this conversation going on -- could you take it elsewhere?". Make it a friendly request, not an annoyed demand, and folks will usually cooperate.

3) If your own office has a door, it is always legitimate to close it. If it doesn't, consider wearing headphones to block some of the distractions.

(I used to have an office near the rest rooms, which was a frequent location for folks to pause and chat. I had to get over my reluctance to ask them to move along. It helped that there was a lounge area nearby that I could point them to.)

  • 7
    "wait for a pause in the conversation" -- waiting for a pause in the conversation in a meeting that you aren't attending (you just happen to be sat nearby) seems weird to me. Among the many reasons the meeting-goers should be closing the door, is that some random person who happens to sit near the meeting rooms shouldn't be listening to the conversations in the meetings in the first place -- everyone who should be listening should have been invited to the meeting! – Steve Jessop May 3 '16 at 9:51
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    I generally agree, and also with @SteveJessop on not waiting for a pause. Walk over to the open door, knock gently on it and say 'can I just close this guys? Thanks.' and pull the door closed. And no need for 'no offense' - just politely and charmingly "Hi guys, any chance you can take this that way?". Polite, kind but assertive. By all means check this is ok with your boss in advance. – Phil H May 3 '16 at 10:14
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    Part of the point is to interrupt their meeting, so that in future they will close the door themselves just to avoid the interruption. It's also very hard to complain about "hey boss, when we have meetings this rude person who sits near the room keeps closing the meeting room door". – Móż May 4 '16 at 5:06
  • I was trying to allow for varying cultural levels of acceptable interruption, as explicitly noted, specifically because some may worry more than others about intruding upon the meeting (especially if it involves executives). Point was that there is almost always going to be some acceptance easy of doing this. – keshlam May 4 '16 at 9:13
20

If you are adjacent to not one, but four meeting rooms, all used by different people, there will be a lot of meeting traffic. I doubt you will be able to reeducate all of them on elementary politeness. (My personal impression is that most people who are considerate enough to actually keep a request such as yours in mind are already considerate enough to close meeting room doors in the first place.)

Getting people to change their behavior in the long run is very hard. Our office assistants keep asking people to erase whiteboards and tidy up meeting rooms - every time they send an email, things improve for a week, then go back to the way they were before.

It looks to me like you will need to close the doors yourselves on meetings, and ask people that continue their meeting right behind your chair to move away... for the foreseeable future. Yes, that is certainly a possible course of action, as others have written, but my guess is you will get tired of it, plus it's a lot of distraction. (Good exercise, though.)

My recommendation: try educating people and closing doors. If you find yourself closing doors on meetings more than doing actual work, talk to your manager and ask whether you could be assigned a different desk.

Nobody should need to sit right next to four meeting rooms, anyway; there will always be far too much noise there. Much better to convert this space to a lounge-type area, or set up the office supply cabinet, or something, and move people's desks somewhere farther away.

  • 9
    +1 for the last part. Near 4 meeting-rooms is just a bad place for a working desk, no matter how considerate and quiet people are! – Layna May 3 '16 at 8:55
18

In regards to the first problem, if your manager is sympathetic and has a reasonable amount of authority, then there is a very simple and cheap solution: get door closers fitted to the doors:

enter image description here

People will have to actively take steps to keep the door open with one of those fitted, so the default state will be closed.

These also provide fire safety benefits (because closed doors slow the spread of fires) which may be useful if persuasion of more senior management is necessary, and the increase to your productivity alone isn't convincing enough.

  • You know those things cost money, right? And do you know how the average manager responds to ideas costing money? Exactly. – Mast May 4 '16 at 8:37
  • @Mast Yes, but not much money. The low end versions sell for about £10 ($15) a piece. Plus a couple of hours labour to fit them. If the manger decides that that is too high a price to pay to increase the productivity of their worker who is being paid a salary, then that's their loss. But in any case that is off-topic for the question, and the OP did specify that he has a sympathetic manager. – Jon Bentley May 4 '16 at 8:42
  • Sympathetic managers still need budget to get things like this done. In a perfect world it shouldn't be a problem to get something simple like this done, but in the real world it usually is. – Mast May 4 '16 at 9:12
6

The answers are great. I suggest the following finesses to them.

  • asking them to be quiet, or move on, or return to the conference room and close the door: in a perfect word is the canonical answer. Unfortunately this is an imperfect world, and you stated you are junior. If you choose this route, it could hurt your career. There are so many people these days who perceive slights where there are none.
  • someone mentioned ear buds all day. Accckkk! Not if you want to hear later in life. High quality noise canceling headphones work absolute wonders, and won't ruin you hearing. This may be the most practical answer.
  • Some stated door closers. That would help part of the problem.Not all of it.
  • Probably out of your influence, but if many employees complained: white noise generators in the ceiling panels. I was skeptical at first, but must admit they are effective. They don't omit all the dB's of sound, but they do change in a way so it won't distract you.
  • Again, maybe out of your influence... sound absorbing materials in the passageway.

On reflection, I think your most success is if other people around you feel the same.

Update edit: You said you were junior. Well it sounds like (pun intended) you got the worst desk. That's how things roll, I've seen it many times. I'd invest in the headphones, not ear buds. When you get more seniority, you'll move away from that noise hot spot.

  • 1
    I wear noise canceling earbuds all day and keep the volume low. It works out well for me and I have great hearing (at 50 yo). – CramerTV May 3 '16 at 18:46
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    Do you have a source for the claim that ear buds will ruin your hearing? – Christian May 4 '16 at 10:12
  • I think the claim that closing the door, or politely asking someone to keep their conversation, could hurt your career is overblown. Could an extremely capricious and petty person decide they don't like you for whatever reason? Yes, but trying to avoid offending people like this will only lead you to paralysis. Being afraid to take even the mildest actions for fear they will cause offense is much more likely to hurt your career than someone mad that you closed a door. – user45590 May 4 '16 at 11:08
  • @Christan I have no "peer reviewed" but Google it. This medicaldaily.com/… comes to mind Earbuds are closer to the eardrum. Also, people tend to crank up non-noise cancelling buds, which is the majority of buds out there. A noise cancelling headset is more likely to be played at moderate dB. – Paulb May 4 '16 at 11:39
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    Noise canceling headphones are not necessarily better for the hearing than the normal ones, the noise canceling effect is a sound too. If you're worried about your hearing you should focus first on the isolation characteristics of the headphones/earbuds – gbr May 4 '16 at 12:29
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Conference room doors are often left open when some of the expected participants have not yet arrived, so that they will be able to see that their meeting now has the room. On the other hand, the people who are there should be using the time to discuss as much as they can without the late-arrivers. Some conference rooms can create claustrophobic feelings, and have heating or air conditioning problems, with the door closed.

Often, casual post-meeting discussions are extremely valuable. From an overall productivity and communication point of view it would be better to avoid disrupting them by trying to move them.

Enforcing door shutting and immediate dispersal after meetings is fixing the wrong problem. As stated in another answer, nobody should have their desk where you have yours. It should be a lounge or similar space, where people can carry on their post-meeting conversations or wait for a previous meeting to finish without disturbing anyone.

You should request a change of desk location, and point out to your manager the undesirability of assigning the current location as someone's primary work location. Moving your desk to an area where meetings do not naturally occur should prevent loud meetings near your desk.

===================================================================

In presenting this to your manager, consider pointing out that your current desk location is a natural meeting place, and so might benefit from a white board and some chairs. Workplace communication is generally a good thing, and managers often want to find and enhance locations where it is happening.

  • 1
    I agree the most with this one, just move yourself away from there. You certainly can't be the grumpy guy shutting people up but you can ask your manager for moving you since the noise is affecting your concentration and will end up affecting your performance. Just ask for it. It doesn't matter if you are the janitor or the trainee and these guys are the CEO and his team, if their noise is affecting you, you should speak up. – user49901 May 4 '16 at 16:04
0

I have a very similar problem and have had some success talking about meeting confidentiality and the need to make meetings more private. Trade secrets, strategic plans, patient information, product ideas, confidential employee discipline talks, product and campaign launches could all be compromised. It would help if you could point out something that was spilled while they were talking near you. That may make them highly concerned and prompt them to take action. Watch getting yourself in trouble. Choose wisely what you divulge from overheard conversations.

I have full scale noise cancelling headphones. Even the best headsets can't block out everything, so I add a white noise track loud enough to help block out the remainder of loud conversations. It will never be perfect, but it may be enough.

Having your own loud conversation on the phone might help or strategically and intentionally congregating with your office peers in the same area just as meetings let out might cause stray attendees to naturally migrate elsewhere. Then you could all disperse and get back to what you need to do. That could be fun.

Good luck.

protected by Community May 3 '16 at 21:06

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