Q. I work in an open office and one of my coworkers is constantly taking personal calls; I’ve learned much more personal information than I care to know. To make it worse, his cell phone goes off loudly all the time, and he leaves it on his desk when he walks away. I’ve spoken to my supervisor many times but there’s no change. What else can I do?
A. There are pros and cons to an open office environment and you’re experiencing one of the cons. One of the easiest things to change is how loudly his phone rings, or change to the vibrate feature with no ring at all. That’s a request which he should agree to easily. This is the time to speak to him directly, which is always a good choice before going to someone’s boss.
Even if he does change the volume on his phone, ask him if he’d make sure to take his phone with him when he leaves his desk, or maybe put it in a drawer. If his phone rings when he walks away, you can perhaps open his desk drawer and place it in there, or in his backpack or coat pocket. Anywhere accessible that will muffle the sound and minimize the disturbance. Consider leaving him a note to tell him where it is. This is not the time to play hiding games and increase any existing tension.
It’s really unfortunate that your supervisor has not been able to impact a behavioral change on this colleague. Approach your supervisor one more time – perhaps offering him this Job Doc – and bring some of your own suggestions about what the supervisor could say. Try and find out why they don’t think this is important enough to deal with.
In terms of personal calls, many people have vitally important reasons to take them at work – they could have a sick child or parents who need additional support. They may be speaking to their own physician. Unfortunately, what this person has failed to recognize is that it would be better to move that personal call into a private office. He may be trying to multitask and work while he’s on the phone, and is not aware that he’s a disturbance and a distraction. Many of the other pitfalls of open work areas include people who eat loudly at their desk, or someone with bodily noises they may not be able to control. Depending on the size of your open office and how many people are in it, you may decide, with your supervisor’s support, to have an etiquette conversation. For example, there is one company that moved the microwave into a hallway closet so that people could heat up food without distributing the odors throughout the office, and that’s been helpful for them.
Being aware of your colleagues and how your behavior impacts them is something most people learn early on the job. For some reason, this guy is not aware, and hopefully through a collegial conversation, you can get him to change his ways.