Noisy office problems


I wondered if anyone had ideas about the best way to handle this situation. I'm a PhD student sharing an office with other group members - we get on fine and have a quiet office, with an agreement that we step outside to make phone calls, go down to the common room or somewhere to chat etc, so we don't disturb each other's work. The problem is we have half of a big office shared with another group, with just a thin screen between us, and they are very noisy. Not even work-related discussions, but gossiping, messing around on facebook etc, shouting across the room to each other, laughing, lots of loud sudden high-pitched shrieking from one of the girls in particular which makes me jump out of my skin as it's literally inches away from me on the other side of the thin wall!

I feel like this is really affecting my ability to concentrate and makes me feel stressed and angry all the time. Have considered going in there and saying something but not sure if that's appropriate (and am a bit of a shy person so this would be difficult for me). Or should I speak to my supervisor and ask her to have a word? Glaring at them through the window has not helped! :)

Or am I being unreasonable and should just put up with it, and get ear plugs or headphones? To be clear, I'm not expecting everyone to tiptoe around in complete silence, just a bit of respect and consideration for others and not behaving like you're in a coffee shop or pub in the office. There are a couple of 'quiet' people in the 'noisy' group who I suspect are annoyed by it too. I could work from home more or go to the quiet study area of the library to read, but don't see why I should have to be driven away from my desk when they're the ones in the wrong. I've worked in a very distracting and noisy environment before, but had hoped that academia would be one place where the need for quiet study and concentration were understood...


======= Date Modified 15 Mar 2011 14:43:46 =======
I officially am based in a large PhD room (c25 people) although I work from home most days. This did become an issue in our room. One person asked their supervisor, who is pretty high up in the institute, to circulate an email to everybody. She was tactful but nevertheless reminded everybody that if they wanted to chat etc, they should do so away from our office. She also said that it wasn't the place for impromptu meetings. It took a couple of emails but the problem has been resolved to a large extent.

We were all doing PhDs though - those on the other side of your screen don't sound like they are - that could make the problem more difficult to resolve. I agree you shouldn't have to relocate but if the problem persists, I would.


During my PhD I had a shared office with a part time lecturer...ideal when the other person was not in, a nightmare if they were, as they did not seem to understand my need to work and my disinterest in chat when trying to work. I finally bought large noise cancelling head phones and wore them continiously as the other person seemed to be immune to understanding the need for letting me get on with my work--even after a few conversations to this effect. This did not completely solve the problem, but it did lessen it. And now in my own office the head phones are nice to have to listen to music with.

I think you are well within your rights to raise the issue and ask for a quiet zone for work. If people want to take a break to chat and socialise, then surely there are places they can do that without disturbing people in a work area.

I think your idea of raising this with your supervisor is a good one. After all, they do have some responsibility to make sure the work areas are appropriately suitable--and a word from a supervisor will be taken perhaps differently than a word from you.


I have the same problem from time to time. A particular individual in the room next door rushes in periodically, starts gossiping loudly and shrieking with laughter for half an hour and then barges back out slamming the door, but weirdly the others in the room are a lot quieter and don't seem to say much back so I'm not sure why they don't ask her to be quiet! I have no idea what to do - so I just tend to pack up and go home when she arrives! The email thing sound like a good idea though - would be interested to know if it works if you try it.


My PhD room is sooo good with such great people but sometimes construction work outside gets unbearable (central London location worsens things), so I have resorted to silicone earplugs which have worked wonders!


Noise is one thing, at least you can block it out! Recently I've noticed a sickly sweet artificial fruit smell coming out of nowhere...kind of like lockets/strepsils except much stronger and no menthol. Smell of it gives me a headache and I can't figure out who it is! (sprout)


I know exactly how you feel, as I've been going through noise issues too (at my student apartment and my office space at uni).

I wear earplugs (the disposable kind). This does get me looks from people who sometimes pass by my desk. I have also tried ear muffs (the type one would buy from a hardware shop). Unfortunately they are not comfortable, especially when you wear them for a long period. I have also tried headphones over ear plugs, which does work temporarily. But I found that no matter what you do (ear plugs, soundproofing), one will find the muffled noise infuriating. I found myself actively listening for any noise whilst wearing my earplug/headphone combination, which sort of meant that I wasn't concentrating on my work.

What I have found is that while these provide temporary relief and some sanity, nothing is better than to go to higher authority. It is worth notifying the offending people of their problem, but sadly I don't think it will change the situation much. Even if they think they are being quieter, they will still be too noisy. If confronted, they might even retaliate (by being noisier) if they are that immature. I think it is better to notify the higher authority notified first of the issue. Emailing their office sounds like a good idea... so it becomes more like a general complaint.


Thanks all for the replies, it's good to know I'm not being completely unreasonable and oversensitive in expecting a fairly quiet workspace! I think I will try mentioning it to my supervisor and see if she can send an email or something (or maybe she can speak to their supervisor?).