Quiet workplace?

Subject: Quiet workplace?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Mon, 01 Mar 2004 09:31:32 -0500

Anonymous reports: <<In my current job I find myself in a rather noisy part of the office, sandwiched between a common area, a high-traffic corridor, and the mail-sorting area. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on my work, and I'm feeling stressed by the mechanical noises and casual conversations going on around me.>>

This sounds like something you need to discuss with your manager. If you can make a strong case for how stressful the environment is, they may be able to find you another office. I know that I can't work in very noisy environments--can't concentrate nearly as well as when I have a relatively quiet workplace.

<<So far my complaints to my manager and the manager of HR have fallen on deaf ears>>

Perhaps the key word there is "complaints"? Managers hate people who raise problems, but have a great fondness for people who propose solutions. I'd recommend doing some snooping to see if you can find an open office or even a quieter cubby--talk informally to the facilities manager, or whoever allocates workspace, to find out what barriers there might be to getting yourself assigned to a new space.

One thing I learned working for the government is that it's much easier to get what you want if you know who really holds the power to make decisions. In the government, that's rarely the person who holds nominal title to this role--often it's their secretary or the one clerk in their department who actually knows how to work the photocopier. No, really! Get that person on your side (request help, enlist their sympathy, don't complain) and you can often move mountains. Move the mountain, then point out to your manager the blank space where all that rock used to be and request that you occupy that space.

If that doesn't work (it doesn't always), consider investing in some "noise-cancelling headphones". You can find these in various techy magazines or through a Google search. Haven't tried any of them, but have heard (warning: anecdotal evidence) that they work surprisingly well. I believe Sennheiser is one company that makes them. Low-tech solutions such as earplugs can also work well.

<<How have others (especially lone writers like me) succeeded in negotiating for a quiet workspace?>>

When I was working for my former employer, I was first assigned to an office nicknamed (for obvious reasons) "the acquarium", in a high-traffic area. I made my point without actually complaining about the office simply by having my manager meet me there during the course of our usual work to discuss various projects at appropriate times (i.e., the noisiest times). They got annoyed by the noise and the lack of privacy, and were thus quite open to my suggestion for a change. Worth a try?

<<When applying for a new job, how do writers assess the suitability of their future working environment?>>

I ask them to show me where I'll be working (ideally the actual office). If you've done well enough at the interview, you can sometimes get a chance to meet the other team members. I've been lucky in getting this chance in past interviews, but you have to ask for it: Talk privately and off the record to several of the team members. You'd be amazed at what you can learn.

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)





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