It goes without saying that we all need solitude to recharge ourselves mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. While we tend to think of the need for quiet time in our off hours, there is also a need for quiet time at the office.
Over the past few decades, as open floor plan offices have become ubiquitous, noise has become an everyday part of work life. This makes it harder for us to focus when we need to complete a task that takes time. And unless you have quiet spaces, sometimes called huddle rooms or something similar, it can be difficult to escape the distractions…which can negatively affect your work.
According to an article from HBR, “The meaning of noise can sometimes be subjective. One person’s symphony is another person’s annoyance. We define “noise” as all the unwanted sound and mental stimulation that interferes with our capacity to make sense of the world and our ability to act upon our intentions. In this sense, noise is more than a nuisance. It’s a primary barrier to being able to identify and implement solutions to the challenges we face as individuals, organizations, and even whole societies.”
So if we want to address the noise issues we face today, what can we do to build an organizational culture that actively supports the ability to work in a quiet environment? According to the article’s authors, we first need to discuss it.
In an always-on interconnected business world, setting expectations about when people are expected to be online, when people can schedule uninterrupted time, and how people should engage during meetings (i.e. whether multitasking is okay) are all topics that will affect your culture. They recommend asking and answering the following questions to integrate quiet time into your culture.
In what ways do I create noise that negatively impacts others?
Instead of targeting other people with noise complaints, first look at yourself and see where you could improve your work habits as it relates to noise. What are you doing that might contribute to the noise factor in your office? For example, is your mobile phone silenced, or are reminders pinging at a high volume and ringtones blaring for everyone to hear? Do you speak loudly when talking to someone either at your desk or on the phone? Do you play music at your desk without headphones on?
Starting with yourself is a great way to understand how you are unconsciously contributing to noise pollution in the office and provides you with empathy towards others who are doing the same. And if you think you’re not an offender, ask those around you what their perception is of your noise during the work day.
What noisy habits bother me most?
When you think about what noises bother you the most, you can create a set of self-guided rules to model the behaviors you want to see from others. You can think of these as your golden noise rules.
How can I help others find the quiet time they need?
Helping others find quiet time can be a challenge if you don’t know that they are trying to focus. This can be exacerbated by the proliferation of earbuds, and not being able to tell that someone is otherwise engaged.
When scheduling a meeting with some or even if you’re stopping by to talk to them, always check their calendar first to see if they have the time blocked. Some people will schedule blocks of time when they need to focus. Another idea is to have something visual to signify that you do not want to be interrupted. This can be especially effective in open environment floor plans to signal to others you’re busy before they approach you. As mentioned earlier, huddle rooms can also be effective as they are small private spaces that you can reserve and have a door you can close.
As a leader in an organization, it’s important to champion and support quiet initiatives in your company. Listen to employees and be open to new ideas about, “managing the soundscape or enhancing the ambiance, especially ones that serve the interests of those who lack influence…At some organizations, it’s “no email Fridays” or “no meeting Wednesdays.” At others, it’s eliminating the expectation of being available and on electronic devices during weekends or after 5 pm. For some workplaces, a redesign of the floor plan might help specific kinds of workers get the focus that they need.”
Noise is a byproduct of our society, and the need for quiet time is often overlooked. If you want to build a culture that embraces quiet time, send us a note.