Saturday, October 31, 2009

Do we need a policy for this? Really!

Got an interesting question from a reader:

I’ve noticed on a number of occasions that people stand in office corridors for long periods of time to discuss things. Quite often these corridor-talks are a spill over from a meeting/conference that they would have concluded a few minutes back. At times these discussions turn out to be loud enough to disturb other employees in that work area. There are enough conference rooms at the workplace that people could use for their discussions. I was wondering if I should write to the HR asking them to come up with a policy that prohibits people from standing in the corridor and having discussions. Employees sitting around these areas are put through a lot of discomfort. I’m one of them. Would it be possible to have such a policy? What are your thoughts?

First, I haven’t come across such a policy in my career. At least not yet. Maybe in kindergarten. Really. When we were told: Don’t sit here. Don’t stand there. Don’t talk here. Don’t walk there. You get my point?

So my answer to your question is – No. It doesn’t make sense to have a policy that states that no one can talk in office corridors. Sounds ridiculous. No? It will trigger an unnecessary debate. One that will question the very fact that everyone working there are adults and so this can be dealt with better than having a policy. All that’s required to resolve this situation is some tips on social etiquette. An email from HR should suffice to resolve this issue.

Meanwhile, here’s something you can try. Next time if you notice someone talking in the corridor close to your work area, go and request them to continue their discussion in a conference room. Tell them that their chat in the corridor is disturbing your work. The reason I ask you mention that ‘you’ are affected is because I’m not sure if others feel the same way. If they have brought up a similar issue and expressed their displeasure, only then mention that people working in that area are affected. You really don’t want to make decisions for them, without their consent. With regard to asking people to stop chatting in the corridor, you might have to do this as many times as possible. It’s not a one time fix. But at least you’ll know when the discussion is loud enough to distract you from your work.

Most often people get so absorbed in their discussions, that they might not be aware of their voice decibel levels. Your request could solve this issue in a jiffy! Really. The best case scenario is that people will apologize and get into a conference room / take their discussion elsewhere. I’m not sure of the worst case scenario. Do you think you work with people who would just ignore your request and keep talking? I really doubt that.

Another point to consider is whether this is affecting just you or have the other employees expressed similar concern. If it’s just you, then maybe, you are unable to tune out minor distractions. That’s something you can work on that too. There are enough solutions to this, starting with an old fashioned ear plug. No. It doesn’t sound / look crazy. If you are the kind of person that requires a silent environment at work, then the first step would be to help yourself achieve that environment. It’s a lot easier than controlling other people’s actions.

Hope that helps.