Friday, July 10, 2009

Making noise about noise

Recently I've been meaning to update the blog, but when I think of what I'd like to write I'm probably in the shower, or walking to or from work.

In the office I generally don't have time to update the blog.
But, more than time, it really comes down to environment.. if one can find those 10-20 minutes to sit down without any interferences and write something down.
..speaking of which.. there is an internal R&D blog in my company and today I dediced to post there a message/complain about the frequent noisy meetings at the open-space meeting room. Place that happens to be near my desk and that today was extremely active with some meeting-happy individuals that seem to have little actual work to do.

I decided to write on the blog about the noise level.. because when I reported the issue to my superiors, nothing really happened, and it seems to me that to really change things sometimes one just has to make something public.. and then people have to take notice.

The R&D blog is usually about general factoids, quick reports from people going to conventions, news.. but to me it's more like a place to get real about the work situation.

..notice that up until now I actually tried several things to reduce the noise. Including earphone + noise cancelling headphones, ear muffs and ear plugs meant for F1 racing.. but some meetings are just too noisy !
You can tone down the volume, but voices and laughters will not be removed. I think at some level noise just gets in from the cheek bones, nostrils, anything. And then a person talking becomes a whisper, which is not very pleasant 8)

I think that concentration is a very important factor for people that use their brain in a certain way (that use it for real ;). Not all jobs require the same degree of concentration.. and I guess, some programmers can afford to spend several hours in meetings, cracking up about anything that smells like a joke.. and I suspect that they aren't really doing their job. But that's another topic..

One thing that bugs me is how some Japanese themselves can be so insensitive.. I mean, there is this unwritten rule about not speaking out loud in almost any occasion, the train, the elevator, etc.
People are constantly reminded with posters in the subways that there are other people around to mind about. I remember one of my first Japanese language comic book was actually a manners book for kids !

I suppose that all this education can't work for 100% of the people and perhaps we may need a poster with some cute animals that reminds people in the open-space meeting room that there are other people around that are trying to do their work.
It's possible that people that laugh out loud during meetings just have no idea that they are bringing discomfort to those that are around. I have to give the benefit of the doubt.

Kindness however is a double edged sword as it also prevents some from complaining.. so, while many are bothered by the noise, I end up being the one that speaks out.. the complainer, the unkind ! This is expecially true for the Japanese coworkers, as they are very resilient and afraid to bring out negative sentiments. But also the non-Jpanaese coworkers either don't care too much or just don't want to make a fuzz about it.

Well, I think it should be pretty basic that a programmer or a graphic designer (musicians surely already have their own room already) should be able to work in a place that is relatively quiet.. it's a human thing !



  1. I'm agree with you, I actually work in a quiet 3 persons room, but I've spent over 4 years in a loud open space with no respect for the others, not only people talking by themselves but also asking me even the most basic question 'hey matro, please give me your 5 secs: windows is asking to press 'OK', do you think I have to press 'OK'?' then I swap the whole brain buffer to recap what he's doing and finally say 'yes press OK'.

    about the meetings well in the IT down here in Italy most people don't know nearly anything about programming and the like, so they talk a lot about it.

  2. I totally agree, programmers need a quiet separate space. Could be not so obvious for "normal" people, but managers should know it. The problem is the open space itself, it's a bad office organization. At least there should be a separate meeting-room. I always try a top-down approach in these cases: I mean, you can complain about too much noise, bat other creative people could complain about too much silence, or they could like music at work. During meetings people have the right to loud speaking as you have the right to quiet working. Everybody has right. Incompatible people groups. In my point of view the solution is "not open space" :)

  3. Today it was interesting as a few people answered to my post.
    A boss suggested to get in early in the morning. But as everyone is in by 11, I'd have to go to work at 3 AM to get 8 solid hours of work 8) it's usually more than 8 hours.
    Someone from my project that notoriously shares the pain of office noise, suggested to work on weekend and get 2 week days off (probably not doable).
    Another non-Japanese coworker was less subtle, though accurate and defined the open-space meeting room as a "party zone".
    A couple Japanese programmers mentioned having worked near that area and having hated it. I even got a suggestion for better earmuffs 8)

    Luckily I got off the "explaining simple things to simple people" (like a coworker once put it 8) kind of work. I mean, I don't mind to explain things to intelligent and motivated beginners (plus, we all have to learn something), but in some cases it seems like too much time goes into people whose level is too low, or that are possibly not even really interested in the topic.

    To give some background, most of the other development teams have tall booths, more like cubicles. R&D has shorter walls and they are only on the frontal part of an L-shaped desk. Desks are grouped in a square, with 4 people facing away as they sit.

    I don't mind this setting as it's not quite open-space and one doesn't need to setup full-fledged meetings to talk about some minor topic. It's also easier to socialize.. as long as one keeps it short and keeps it down.

    The whole department layout however came with this meeting room which was supposed to have *Plexiglas walls* ..but it doesn't !!
    Someone thought it was a good idea to do without them.. and that, I think it was a bad mistake.

    Also... there is a "business" department nearby. That is open space and that can be rather noisy (some chubby woman loves to laugh). The positive thing about that is that there are some cute girls 8)

    ..and.. in the R&D itself there are secretaries that have to use the phone, managers cranking hundreds of emails per day, phones ringing, etc.

    So, it's a mix of everything.. and if it's not the "laughing team" that seizes the meeting room, then it's the "laughing woman" from the business dept, or somebody blasting on a keyboard.

    My only hope is to get some momentum with this complain, and hope that finally something will be done 8)

  4. Meeting room with no sound proof walls???? Thats also bad because basically everybody can hear the topics being discussed, so the room cant be used for any private discussions.

  5. Of course one doesn't book that for private discussions 8)

    The nice thing about the "room" is that it has 2 white boards that double as projector panels (though the lighting sucks because there is no independent roof).
    It's more an area than a room.. I think that there should be a rule on how it can be used because it's not a standard meeting room.

    When I first complained to my superiors several months ago, I was told "when you hear noise just let me know" ..yeah.. right ! A very nominal solution. I don't need my daddy to make a big voice for me.. we need actual rules in place.