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How to Manage Noise (Yours and Others) in a Shared Workspace

Matt Villano

Headphones are one way to manage noise in a shared workspace

Managing volume — both the noise you contribute and the noise you hear from others — can be one of the biggest challenges in coworking spaces. It also can be the difference between a productive day and a frustrating one.

Coworking spaces are designed to spark creativity and connection, to leverage the magic that happens when out-of-the-box thinkers come together to share the same environment. But let’s be honest, if not properly managed, these spaces can also get loud.

“There’s nothing worse than when you share [space] with someone who has no idea how loud they are being,” says Liz Savasta, who works in suburban New York. “We’ve all been in that situation where we’re sitting near someone who is almost comically loud, and all you can think when you’re there is, ‘Doesn’t this person know?’”

Sometimes the loud person just talks at an elevated volume. Other times they might type loudly, sneeze disruptively, clear a throat incessantly, or simply wear squeaky shoes.

In Savasta’s case, the colleague was basically screaming on every phone call he made.

“He’s a really nice guy — he knows he’s loud — and we joke about it. I can hear him across the office. A [colleague] sits right outside his office and she started closing his door when he’s on the phone, which is all the time. But it wasn’t enough. She said he’s so loud and distracting that she can’t concentrate.”

At THRIVE, community managers like Brandon Opazo take on the task of keeping the peace and quiet and managing volume etiquette. “You don’t have to be the heavy, you can ask a community manager to anonymously intervene — it’s part of our job; we’re used to it.”

THRIVE regional community manager Taylor Hagan says it’s a light touch that’s most effective: “We remind people in a gentle, caring way that they are sharing a space. I try never to say that they’re being too loud — I just ask them to lower their volume. We’re not trying to shame anyone.”

Headphones and phone booths to the rescue

In a coworking space, the easiest way to deal with loud colleagues is to wear noise-canceling headphones. Not only do these block out external noises, but they also make a bold statement to everyone else in the room: LEAVE ME ALONE.

Coworking spaces often provide phone booths
Many shared workspaces offer soundproof phone booths for important calls.

But as Rudy Campos, who works in Northern California, learned, headphones aren’t always effective.

“Even when I wore headphones, [a loud colleague] would come tap me on the shoulder and distract me constantly.”

Coworking spaces have another option: the phone booth. These are small rooms specifically designed for phone calls. Most have a chair and a small table for placing a laptop. Many also are composed of soundproof sheetrock — an attempt to bend over backward to make sure those who use the room aren’t disturbing others.

There is some etiquette involved in using the phone booth — most require signups (and many signups are managed with dry-erase markers, right on the door). What’s more, even when you’re in the phone booth, it behooves you to speak in quieter tones, particularly for those seated just outside.

Time to take evasive action

When all else fails — whether you find you can’t escape loud colleagues or you become aware that you are a loud colleague yourself, it’s best to minimize your exposure in the coworking space to others.

The easiest way to do this: If your job allows, try hot-desking at off times to avoid big crowds.

This will limit your exposure to potentially loud colleagues and will give you more leeway to be loud yourself (if that’s something you know you struggle with).

Avoid unwanted noise by moving to an outside space
If there’s nice weather and outdoor space like at THRIVE | Alpharetta — take advantage of it!

If you must work during typical business hours, try claiming spots at tables for one (or at tables up against walls) so you’re not right on top of other colleagues seeking quietude. Another option: sitting outside. If the coworking space has bar seating near an open window, try sitting there. You can even try to grab a desk or table in the back of the room, far away from anyone else.

If all else fails — if the headphones and different positioning don’t help — you may have to consider evasive action. Perhaps a private office with doors you can close. Perhaps you can work in a conference room.

In a worst-case scenario, maybe you should consider that you might need too much quiet — or that you’re too loud for the coworking vibe. After all, nobody’s perfect.

And nobody moves through the world in absolute silence.

Written by Matt Villano

August 4, 2023

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