Handling phone calls in an open coworking office

We’re a relatively new coworking office and have run in to a bit of an issue that I’m sure lots of you have had to deal with before. The whole office is open plan, just one big room, and the majority of the time there will be about 5-8 people in the space, sometimes there will be multiple conversations going but it’s usually pretty quiet. We have one person who’s very nice and polite, except for the fact that he is prone to have extremely long phone conversations at his desk (almost always 30+ minutes) and I have no idea what to do about it. On the one hand, nobody has said anything to me about it, so it’s entirely possible that I’m the only person he bothers and we don’t really have a good alternative to offer him since these phone calls seem to be an important part of his job, so if we make it an issue, I imagine he would leave and losing any member right now is really going to hurt. On the other hand, I’m worried that he’s really impacting the experience for everyone else and they’re just building up resentment without wanting to say anything.

Are there any easy solutions to this?

Hey Jensen,

Here’s the answer I wrote when somebody asked a question like this on Quora, which was one member asking about how to deal with another member.

http://www.quora.com/Is-it-normal-to-take-a-lot-of-phonecalls-in-coworking-space/answer/Alex-Hillman

“It’s not a matter of “common” or “uncommon”, in my experience this sounds less like it has anything to do with phone calls and more to do with people being inconsiderate of the people they’re sitting around…or more often, simply unaware.
When we have this issue at Indy Hall (a member may approach us, much like you’ve approached Quora), our first question is: do you know the person/people who’s bothering you? If you don’t know their name, odds are they don’t know yours and if you don’t even know each others’ names, you’re never going to be considerate of each other. Start there, by simply getting to know each other as neighbors.
From there, it’s much easier to say “hey, when you take calls from your desk it can be really disruptive to me and the people around you. if you found a place that isn’t surrounded by people, you’d probably find it easier to talk quietly and it’d be less distracting to others.”
Most of the time, people don’t even realize they’re bothering anyone, and are happy that you said something. “Oh maybe THATS why people always seem annoyed with me!” You’d be surprised how many people are simply not aware of their surroundings.
And if they don’t respond, or respond poorly…find a new coworking space.”

The shorter answer, is that no, there isn’t an ‘easy’ solution because the easy solution is avoidance…which is about the worst example you can set for your community about how to handle problems.

You already know what you have to do, but you’re avoiding doing it because losing a single member would hurt right now. That’s true, but losing more members over the long haul is going to hurt a lot more.

The easiest way to think about this is to set the expectations with your members that part of sharing space means looking after three things:

  • Look after yourself

  • Look after each other

  • Look after the places and things we share

If this person doesn’t know that they’re being disruptive, then it’s your (and every member’s) responsibility to help by looking after for them. If they DO know they’re being disruptive, they’re not looking after themselves. Either way, that courtesy goes a LONG way to reminding people how to be mindful of each other.

-Alex

···

On Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 4:02 PM, Jensen Yancey [email protected] wrote:

We’re a relatively new coworking office and have run in to a bit of an issue that I’m sure lots of you have had to deal with before. The whole office is open plan, just one big room, and the majority of the time there will be about 5-8 people in the space, sometimes there will be multiple conversations going but it’s usually pretty quiet. We have one person who’s very nice and polite, except for the fact that he is prone to have extremely long phone conversations at his desk (almost always 30+ minutes) and I have no idea what to do about it. On the one hand, nobody has said anything to me about it, so it’s entirely possible that I’m the only person he bothers and we don’t really have a good alternative to offer him since these phone calls seem to be an important part of his job, so if we make it an issue, I imagine he would leave and losing any member right now is really going to hurt. On the other hand, I’m worried that he’s really impacting the experience for everyone else and they’re just building up resentment without wanting to say anything.

Are there any easy solutions to this?

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This is not really an issue at Betacowork except in the cases of a couple people that have very powerful theater-grade voices. When people worry about being to noisy we just tell them to make a call and then just ask those around if it bothered (response is no). We have the advantage of having the space divided into 3 rooms, so there are less interruptions affecting the whole space. What we have also done is setup one of the rooms as a call free zone

Any thoughts on taking your approach of defining a “No call zone” as opposed to a “Designated call zone”?

I assume if you have more people OK with calls than not, than you’d be better of with the former, and visa-versa.

Is that how you decided?

···

On Wednesday, October 15, 2014 1:39:36 AM UTC-5, Ramon Suarez wrote:

This is not really an issue at Betacowork except in the cases of a couple people that have very powerful theater-grade voices. When people worry about being to noisy we just tell them to make a call and then just ask those around if it bothered (response is no). We have the advantage of having the space divided into 3 rooms, so there are less interruptions affecting the whole space. What we have also done is setup one of the rooms as a call free zone

In all of the examples I’ve seen, the issue with “zones” in either direction is that they inherently need to be enforced…which either doesn’t happen or when it does, people end up feeling slapped on the wrist (not a great feeling for the enforcer or the enforcee).

Zones don’t actually solve the problem, they just put a bandaid on it and worse, allow the passive non-communication between members to continue. It’s surprisingly simple, and a longer-lasting solution, to just make sure that neighbors are talking to each other :slight_smile:

-Alex

···


/ah
indyhall.org

On Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 1:39 AM, Ramon Suarez [email protected] wrote:

This is not really an issue at Betacowork except in the cases of a couple people that have very powerful theater-grade voices. When people worry about being to noisy we just tell them to make a call and then just ask those around if it bothered (response is no). We have the advantage of having the space divided into 3 rooms, so there are less interruptions affecting the whole space. What we have also done is setup one of the rooms as a call free zone


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Our “silent” room has come and go. At the begining very few people wanted to be there and the ones that had to go there because the other areas were full always complained. We run a first survey that meant the official death of the silent room, but the few people that really liked it tried to keep it alive unofficially. After a while of this we run another survey and the room is back, but with a difference : instead of being a library like silent room it is now a no calls room. People can still talk, and we have a group of very “playful” members that make sure it is not dead (the nerf rocket launchers have helped).

For us enforcement is a non issue. People behave (as in the rest of the space) and if not either other members or ourselves will talk to them to remind of the conditions, and that is more than enough. We pull each other’s legs a lot, so most of this conversations are funny and light.

Ramon Suarez

Serendipity Accelerator

http://www.betacowork.com

Phone: +3227376769

Mobile: +32497556284

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ramonsuarez

New book: http://coworkinghandbook.com

···

On Oct 22, 2014 8:22 PM, “David Frahm” [email protected] wrote:

Any thoughts on taking your approach of defining a “No call zone” as opposed to a “Designated call zone”?

I assume if you have more people OK with calls than not, than you’d be better of with the former, and visa-versa.

Is that how you decided?

On Wednesday, October 15, 2014 1:39:36 AM UTC-5, Ramon Suarez wrote:

This is not really an issue at Betacowork except in the cases of a couple people that have very powerful theater-grade voices. When people worry about being to noisy we just tell them to make a call and then just ask those around if it bothered (response is no). We have the advantage of having the space divided into 3 rooms, so there are less interruptions affecting the whole space. What we have also done is setup one of the rooms as a call free zone

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We went through something very similar to Ramon’s example. We had a “silent room” at the very start. It was one of the nicer rooms in the space but was almost always empty, but I left it that way because we had no shortage of available space and I thought it was nice to have the option. Eventually a group of 4 or so people started working there on a regular basis. They approached me and said, “Hey Will, we all really like working in that room. We’re the only people who work there. Does it have to be a silent room?” That was the end of the silent room, and the room popularity jumped. :slight_smile: We kept it and still have it as a “quieter room” and “optional silent room.” It’s up to a person in the room to ask if they need library silence. And if someone wants to have a short call or a short conversation, they should just ask the other people in the room if it’s okay. They know each other. It works well.

Will

···

On Thursday, October 23, 2014 5:11:21 AM UTC+2, Ramon Suarez wrote:

Our “silent” room has come and go. At the begining very few people wanted to be there and the ones that had to go there because the other areas were full always complained. We run a first survey that meant the official death of the silent room, but the few people that really liked it tried to keep it alive unofficially. After a while of this we run another survey and the room is back, but with a difference : instead of being a library like silent room it is now a no calls room. People can still talk, and we have a group of very “playful” members that make sure it is not dead (the nerf rocket launchers have helped).

For us enforcement is a non issue. People behave (as in the rest of the space) and if not either other members or ourselves will talk to them to remind of the conditions, and that is more than enough. We pull each other’s legs a lot, so most of this conversations are funny and light.

Ramon Suarez

Serendipity Accelerator

http://www.betacowork.com

Phone: +3227376769

Mobile: +32497556284

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ramonsuarez

New book: http://coworkinghandbook.com

On Oct 22, 2014 8:22 PM, “David Frahm” [email protected] wrote:

Any thoughts on taking your approach of defining a “No call zone” as opposed to a “Designated call zone”?

I assume if you have more people OK with calls than not, than you’d be better of with the former, and visa-versa.

Is that how you decided?

On Wednesday, October 15, 2014 1:39:36 AM UTC-5, Ramon Suarez wrote:

This is not really an issue at Betacowork except in the cases of a couple people that have very powerful theater-grade voices. When people worry about being to noisy we just tell them to make a call and then just ask those around if it bothered (response is no). We have the advantage of having the space divided into 3 rooms, so there are less interruptions affecting the whole space. What we have also done is setup one of the rooms as a call free zone

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