Blocking Construction Noise on Zoom Calls
July 14, 2020 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way to make this work? I am WFH until September and renovations which are expected to last 6-8 weeks recently started in the vacant apartment right next door to me (NYC).

While the construction noise (hammering, drilling etc) is extremely loud and distracting, I’m usually so busy with work that I can ignore it and I don’t even bother with headphones. However, a lot of my work involves leading and listening in on conference calls. For listening, again, I just turn up the sound on my calls and ignore the construction. However, the noise is extremely disruptive when I am leading a call as people cannot hear me over the drilling when it occurs. The construction happens sporadically throughout the day so there is no way for me to ask people to cover the call in advance. I have tried asking the workers if they are planning on drilling at particular times so I can at least give my colleagues a heads up but they are unable and unwilling to predict when they will be drilling and obviously have a job to do as well.

This is all happening at permitted hours, between 9-5 on weekdays. This normally would be zero issue for me if I was in the office or if I could go to a Starbucks, but since I’m WFH for the next few months (likely to be extended past September) and there is no indoor dining permitted at this time, it has become a huge issue and is having a negative effect on my work. It is not only unprofessional for constant intermittent background noise, its inefficient because others cannot hear me and is causing additional work for my colleagues that are forced to lead the calls on short notice in my place.

Is there any way to block people on the other end of my Zoom/Skype/conference calls from hearing the construction noise while allowing them to still hear my voice, or do I just need to purchase day passes for coworking offices when I have important calls planned? What I have tried/thought of:
- Going to my office to work: This is absolutely not an option. We’re in a multi-tenant high rise in midtown and they have actually shut off elevator access going to our company’s floors. We are only permitted in the office to retrieve items after submitting an advance request to our company HR and the building property management and must be escorted by security via freight elevator.
- Going somewhere else for free: There are no common areas in my building for me to go except the basement laundry room but there is no reception there for me to use my cell phone as a hotspot. Unfortunately there are no (quiet) parks nearby that I could quickly run to – I would have to block out subway or Uber time on either end and this would run through an excessive amount of data. I’m in a studio apartment so there are no other rooms to go to that might be quieter and I rent so I am unable to make any significant adjustments.
- Conferencing headset: I have a Plantronic headset that I got from work a while ago that looks similar to this.
People on the end still find the construction noise to be excessively loud. I am open to purchasing noise-canceling/isolating headphones out of my own pocket (company would not reimburse) if they are guaranteed to work and are headphones I could use once construction has ended. I do not listen to music so the headphones would need to cancel noise without the use of music as a buffer. My work computer is a MacBook Pro.

Bonus question: (NYC) Since this construction is approved by building management and occurring at approved times, there are zero grounds for me to receive a rent reduction, correct? After hearing the noise, a coworker suggested that I ask for one since it is disrupting my work, but I don't believe I have any legal right to this.

Thank you!
posted by lovelygirl to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Check out, it's software for Mac/PC/iOS that does a truly AMAZING job of removing background noise on incoming and outgoing audio using AI. I've tested it and found it to be amazing even when power saws are going in the next yard over. Also it's free for up to 120 minutes/week, so there's really no down side in trying it, although $5/month for the full deal seems expensive when they've apparently already bottled the magic.
posted by tiamat at 9:05 AM on July 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

Our building has reduced "noisy construction" hours - of course that would delay the construction timefram and may not be an option for you but could be worth asking your about (our coop recently allowed work on units to resume however in acknowledgement of the fact that many more people are home in the building these days they instituted the limited hours for destructive/noisy work).

In addition to a stronger/better headset you could look into noise isolation setups - there are an assortment of products seemingly marketed to home audio recording geeks, i cant endorse any of them BUT i came in to say that NYC apartment construction is excruciatingly expensive to begin with, and you shouldnt spend a penny out of pocket to solve a problem your neighbor's construction is creating - i would DEFINITELY hit them up about paying for the noise remediation solution of your choosing.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2020

A good microphone will also make a huge difference -- I have this Samson Q2U.
posted by zeikka at 9:40 AM on July 14, 2020

I assume you don't have a car, but if you did, you could temporarily work from it using a hotspot on your phone to access internet (not that it would necessarily be quieter to be on the street, but it might be, depending on where you're parked). I once had a landlord voluntarily give me a rent reduction during construction on a neighboring unit when I complained...I didn't even ask for the rent reduction. Definitely worth asking.
posted by pinochiette at 9:43 AM on July 14, 2020

Is there any room in your apartment that is less noisy? Could you set up in there, just for meetings? Sitting in the bathtub with bathroom door closed? You don't have to tell them that's where you are and you could disguise what they'd see in the background somehow.
posted by mareli at 9:46 AM on July 14, 2020

I see you are in a studio- is the bathroom any quieter? It's annoying to move your setup, but I have a colleague with a similar issue, and they take video calls from their bathroom where the noise is more muffled- they tacked a white sheet to the wall to "fake" a curtain and just take calls from there. I honestly didn't know it was a bathroom until they were on a happy hour zoom and showed us around.

The other option is talking to the guys next door, and figuring out how long the construction is scheduled to last- or if they have any specific days they will not be working and scheduling around that. This may not be super effective, but its worth a shot.

On preview, Jinx Mareli
posted by larthegreat at 9:49 AM on July 14, 2020

Response by poster: The option looks amazing! I can't install any programs to my computer without IT approval and admin password but I'll look into getting approval or maybe I just use it on my work cell (iOS) for audio and screenshare as normal from laptop :)

I am in a studio apartment so there is no other room to go to. The bathroom actually is right up against the apartment that is having work done so unfortunately that is the noisiest area in my apartment. I don't have a license so I can't rent a car to sit in.

Definitely open to as many suggestions as possible!
posted by lovelygirl at 9:51 AM on July 14, 2020

I don't know from but about not being able to modify your computer w/o admin, I join every Zoom meeting twice, once for the sake of my phone audio/cam/bluetooth and once for seeing the screen shares at a decent size. Due to limited home desk space I couldn't use the laptop screen/camera and laptop couldn't connect to Bluetooth, and my company's Help Desk said "You know you can join Zoom meeting from 2 devices, right?" Problem solved for me.

Now it seems only has iOS and I'm Android, so that dilutes my suggestion a bit.
posted by forthright at 9:59 AM on July 14, 2020

Take a look at the Blueparrott B450-XT noise-cancelling headset. I picked up a couple for use inside of a shop environment, and the NC is really impressive. MeFi mail me if you’d like a zoom demo.
posted by jon1270 at 10:12 AM on July 14, 2020

Hey, if you didn't know, Zoom has a feature where you can mute yourself, but hold spacebar when you want to talk. It's way easier than muting/unmuting!
posted by bbqturtle at 10:39 AM on July 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Your iPhone is actually likely to have better noise cancelling than a normal mic, since phones use multiple mics to detect noise.

And yes, you can totally join a Zoom meeting from 2 devices. You just show up in the participants list twice.
posted by neckro23 at 12:08 PM on July 14, 2020

Are there any other vacant apartments in the building the landlord might temporarily allow you to use for calls?
posted by insectosaurus at 12:16 PM on July 14, 2020

Do you have a closet? That could work if you don't need to be on video. I'm thinking about what podcasters podcasting from home are saying they are doing. If you don't need to be on video, could you try being under a blanket or quilt to muffle some sound, with a good headset?
posted by bluedaisy at 12:59 PM on July 14, 2020

I have a Jabra Evolve 65 bluetooth headset. It's pricey, but if you have the budget for it, it's pretty great!

The microphone pick-up is so sensitive that if I have it positioned just an inch below my mouth (by my chin) the meeting participants say they can't hear me well, and then when I move it back up to in front of my mouth, it becomes crystal clear to them all of a sudden.

Similarly, there are huge, noisy garbage trucks that regularly come by my meeting space and I always muted myself when that happened. One day I was speaking while they rolled on by and then started backing up (high-pitched BEEP! BEEP!) and I apologized to the group. They were puzzled - couldn't hear anything beyond my voice. Even the loud thunking and groaning noises related to lifting and dumping a huge dumpster full of garbage into the truck - they said they couldn't hear anything at all.

If you're able to borrow/test out a headset similar to that one before committing, it may solve your problems without having to use any extra software or move your meeting space.
posted by tinydancer at 1:11 PM on July 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

In Zoom on a Mac, go to Preferences-Audio and click the Advanced button on the lower right. There are three settings: Suppress Persistent Background Noise, Suppress Intermittent Background Noise, and Echo Cancellation. Set them all to Aggressive. The intermittent background noise setting is quite similar to what is doing - it uses machine learning to identify and cancel out intermittent background noise. Change those, then test with a coworker and see if that helps.

I am in almost this exact situation, except I have a one bedroom, but literally every room in the apartment shares a wall with the neighbors. I feel your pain! The settings above have helped quite a lot.
posted by bedhead at 1:27 PM on July 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

Have you tried flipping the mattress against the wall to muffle the noise?
posted by sexyrobot at 2:58 PM on July 14, 2020

After trying the built-in Zoom reduction, then Krisp (which I use, but mostly for non-Zoom software), the next thing to try would be a mic which picks up only sounds in one direction. I've been using a Blue Yeti in the cardioid pattern for the lockdown, and it does pretty well at rejecting noises from the sides and back. There are also headset cardioid mics, but I haven't had much luck with cheap ones. (Expensive ones like the d:fine are magical, though.)
posted by Anonymous Function at 8:58 PM on July 14, 2020

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