Just want some peace and quiet.
May 11, 2010 5:34 PM   Subscribe

How do I tell my bosses that my coworkers are making it impossible to do my work because they are essentially goofing off 50% of the time without getting my coworkers in trouble?

I share an office with three other people and by office I mean share four walls with three other people. The three other people are all in sales and not supposed to be in the office for any period of time, except very occasionally to do paperwork. We are in an office several states away from everyone else at our company, so we have very little contact and virtually no day to day oversight from our bosses.

I am not a salesperson and my job requires near complete silence and I frequently need to make calls that deal with personal and private information as part of my job. I work for a completely different department and only share an office with them by virtue of our location. Most of the sales people in our company don't even have an office and work from home, the only reason these three have an office is because they piggybacked on the office that was supposed to be set up only for me.

While my coworkers are supposed to be spending every waking moment outside of the office meeting clients, etc, they actually spend at least 50% of their time in the office. They often go weeks without leaving the office. While in the office they are constantly talking loudly on the phone, their cell phone ring constantly with loud pop/hiphop/movie trailer/younameit ringtones. Speakerphone is used liberally and often. They talk non stop and simply cannot comprehend why anyone would need silence to work. They seriously cannot understand it at all.

When I first started working here I wrote what I thought was a very carefully worded email to my boss about how we had incompatible work and really could not share an office successfully (they talk for a living and I need silence). Unfortunately this resulted in my coworkers being called up by their "big" boss and screamed at. That made things very uncomfortable in the office for awhile until I was able to smooth things out by showing them the email and explaining that it was misinterpreted by the people upstairs.

After that things got slightly better for a little while and then everyone went back to how it was. I do not think my coworkers are capable of changing. The only solution is for me to get my own office, which would require my company either paying for two offices or completely kicking them out of this office. Since they having meetings with clients at this office, at this point, I think two offices would be the only way.

Today was the last straw. I had a very important call that was only going to last about 15 minutes. It was early in the morning before they even usually get here, but I asked them yesterday if I could have the office to myself and completely quiet for this call. They said of course. This is literally the second time I have ever made a request for complete silence and to have the office to myself.

What happened? Well there was the furniture moving 10 minutes before the call that didn't stop until about a minute before I got the call. Then 5 minutes into the call they just come waltzing in. I quickly put the phone on minute and told them I needed them out of the office NOW and they left.

I am livid and cannot believe they would not even give me 15 minutes of consideration for a very important phone call. I just cannot take it anymore.

I am friends with my coworkers and I like them as people. I do not want to see them get fired or damage their careers by exposing them, but this is seriously impacting my ability to do my job. I do have to work with these people everyday and basically ratting them out to management could destroy my reputation at the company. I have to work with many salespeople who are all across the country in similar positions. Having a reputation for ratting people out to our managers could have very serious affects on not only my happiness at my job, but my career.

Is there any political way to go about telling my bosses I desperately need my own office without at the same time disparaging my coworkers? I do not want to see them get fired or get in trouble I just really want a quiet place to work.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you just tell them what you've said here?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:36 PM on May 11, 2010

I don't think it would make a permanent impression if s/he did explain all this. I feel for your situation, anon. I live it as well. Do they each make the same amount of noise individually as they do altogether? Can a rotating work from home schedule improve things? Is the office big enough where some cubical walls placed around your area deflect the noise enough?

My solutions were a combination of working from home more, wearing in ear headphones (I appreciate that you can't do this, unfortunately) and staggering my hours.
posted by kellyblah at 5:42 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is there any possibility of your switching to a telecommuting role? Can you approach your direct supervisor with a problem (sharing an office space with salespeople is incompatible with your work needs) and a solution (telecommuting from your home office would eliminate the noise and you could liaise by phone with your coworkers when necessary)?
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:43 PM on May 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Your company is being short-sighted and cheap in not having two offices. If I were you, I'd be talking to HR about why your company will not allocate the resources necessary for all of you to do your jobs. E-mail is good so that you have a record, give your co-workers a heads' up immediately after you send it so that they know your side of the story. That way, if they get called on the carpet, they can calmly point out that they know about this issue. If your co-workers were quiet as mice, it would still be disruptive for you to be conducting phone calls regarding sensitive information with other people there.

I'd encourage you to maybe freak out on (okay, not freak out, but be a little more assertive with) your co-workers more often, too. You're letting them be inconsiderate. If you have an important call, you need the office to yourself, door closed, alone, for 15 minutes prior to the call to prepare, during the call, and 15 minutes after to make notes/follow up/whatever. This is how meetings work. If this means that they aren't getting enough office time, they can then also complain to HR that they don't have the resources they need to do their jobs, too.
posted by desuetude at 7:16 PM on May 11, 2010

You need a heart-to-heart conversation with your boss. The subject should not be about how the others are goofing off. It should be about how they need to make sales contact calls and such from the office while you are making confidential and "quiet" calls from the same space. As kelly and Meg say above, the solution may well be telecommuting for you. Help your boss come up with the idea to let you work from home so they can use the office. If someone higher up then decides the office isn't necessary, it may be closed down and the others will have to go back to business the way it should be. You, in the meantime, will show greater productivity.
posted by Old Geezer at 7:47 PM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Who are these people you're on the phone with? Clients? Customers? Any sort of people whose good will and respect is important to your company? When you're emphasizing to your boss that your work requires a private, silent space, you should definitely emphasize how unprofessional it sounds to [the important people on the other end of your calls] to hear other people in the background.
posted by vytae at 8:04 PM on May 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

You're tolerating it because they're fun and you like them and want them to like you. Don't. Tell them the noise in the office is making it impossible for you to get work done, and that it's a major problem for you. And you'll need to talk to the home office about a new space. And you're worried it will cause trouble for them. Then make the call and allow them to learn the consequences of their behavior.

At the very least, get tall cubicle walls for separation and add lots of soundproofing.
posted by theora55 at 10:25 PM on May 11, 2010

I don't think I'd want to make this about them any more than it already is. You've been through an uncomfortable period, you'll just start another. The personal discomfort and friction will outweigh any distraction from their noise, assuming they don't start playing games and trying to annoy you.

I would propose some kind of cubicle setup so that you aren't in the bullpen environment. I prefer fewer distractions myself but I've been in client situations where I had little choice, and over the years in literally over 100 different work environments from halls and latched door offices to the open plan. I don't want to say you're being unreasonable, but you may be overstating your need for absolute silence and privacy.

I would also reconsider your approach to requests like the recent one for 15 minutes. It doesn't sound like you even considered outright bribery. Next time you really need those 15 minutes, tell them that you do, and that if you get it, you'll order in doughnuts (or pizza for lunch). Catch more flies with honey, etc.

Ideally, yes, your bosses would understand the incompatible work environment stuff. These aren't ideal times for most businesses, and the idea that one (perhaps in their view high-strung) office worker takes precedence over three money-bringing sales guys could be a hard sell. Ultimately, for peace, you may just need to rethink your whole approach to this job, and how much your adaptability can be stretched.

You seem to know this, but ultimately, sales types are just a completely different personality from engineer/programmer/researcher types. You're not going to get them to change by instituting rules and even if you succeed in promulgating them they will be widely disregarded and that will transfer to you as dislike. To my mind, that's not worth it. I'd rather be able to occasionally turn around and join in the fun, even if I have to close it off most of the day.
posted by dhartung at 11:29 PM on May 11, 2010

What old geezer said. You need to assume your colleagues are doing their jobs well, but do it in a noisy environment while you need quiet. The telecommuting idea is a great one.
posted by xammerboy at 11:43 PM on May 11, 2010

Could you propose a time-share system, wherein you get quiet mornings in exchange for noisy afternoons? Call a meeting, present this as problem for all of you (you need quiet time, they need to not be yelled at) and ask them their thoughts on solving the problem. A compromise could be say, 10-12am and 2-4pm is quiet time. There might be an exception for scheduled calls at specific times etc but you can write that in. Once you're all agreed make a simple agreement, draw up the timetable, get approval from your boss and and stick it on the wall. Next time it's quiet time and someone starts up you can point to the agreement - be cheery about it and don't get sucked into an argument. It might take a while to bed in but if people know the office is not 'open' at certain times they might be less inclined to hang out there.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:04 AM on May 12, 2010

You say you don't think they can change. You say things got better when they got yelled at by the home office. You don't want to tell the home office they are disrupting you.

Either get over not wanting to "get them in trouble", get a cubicle installed in the room with soundproofing, or get a new job. If you keep letting them interfere with your work, eventually your substandard work will be noticed and you will be replaced. That's probably something you don't want either.

I think the direct routes others are mentioning are best, but if you want to be all "getting them in trouble without having them be mad at me" about it the next time it is particularly rowdy get on a call with their boss, tell him you have to put him on hold for a moment then "accidentally" press the speakerphone button instead of the hold button and walk away for a few minutes.
posted by mikepop at 6:08 AM on May 12, 2010

Actually...mikepop's idea isn't bad. Make a call to your boss while they're all there and being rowdy. Do some of the "I'm sorry, could you speak up, it's very loud here." The call doesn't have to *start* as a call about getting a quieter place to work, but the noise levels could let you segue into it.
posted by dejah420 at 6:14 AM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Call a staff meeting with the sales people and tell them: "We have a problem. The quality of my work is being affected when you guys are here with your music and ringtones and laughter and speaker phones. I appreciate that this is how you guys work and there's three of you and one of me. But the noise affects my work and causes problems with (my clients/accuracy/whatever.) We need to work out some kind of compromise (quiet mornings, noisy afternoons or eliminating music/ringtones, whatever) or I will have to be more open with my supervisor about the reasons that I'm requesting a change in our set up. You guys want use of this office without your supervisor hassling you, I want to be able to do my job properly. How can we work this out?"
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:53 AM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Okay, I just read your question at the end of your post. The answer to that question is "No." There no way to make your case to your supervisors that you need your own place without telling him/her the extent of the situation. If you minimize the disruption, you don't get the change. Give the sales group the pitch I outlined above and emphasize that you will not deliberately sink them, but you will not protect them at the cost of your own job performance, either. It's their choice.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:01 AM on May 12, 2010

One point you should be sure to make is that you "frequently need to make calls that deal with personal and private information." I assume it's important that they don't overhear these calls, and if you're sharing an office, they will. There's no blame/ getting anyone in trouble involved in pointing out that you need your own space to make confidential calls.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:20 AM on May 12, 2010

I am friends with my coworkers and I like them as people.

But... they are not friends with you. Friends don't keep you from doing your job. Your coworkers don't respect you. Be assertive. Tell them that it's up to them how they do their jobs (and whether they do them at all) but the noise is impacting you, and if they can't cut it out you're going to have to go to your boss. Drop this idea of having to be liked by them, unless you'd rather have these "friends" than a job.
posted by desjardins at 12:23 PM on May 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

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