Noticing the notice - meish dot org: life, unfolding

“In most digital workplaces, there’s an unwritten understanding that when someone has headphones on, they’re not to be disturbed.”

I never knew that, having worked in offices where people wear headphones, and having worn headphones while working in offices. Offices are social places, and I assume that if people are in the office, they’re ready to talk to other people if necessary.

I’ve often worn headphones when an office is quiet and boring, or when there’s lots of distracting noise. In neither case do I expect people to avoid bothering me if they need something. I know it might put some people off, but it’s usually the case, happily, that people will wave to attract my attention, and then we can talk. Similarly, if I need to talk to someone and they’re wearing headphones, I’ll try and discretely attract their attention — they might wave a kind of “hang on” or “two minutes” signal, which is fine — but I would be surprised if they were really angry. I’d wonder why they were in the office if they didn’t want to talk to anyone, ever.

So I can see an explicit sign (or something more) would be completely necessary. Was your previous sign, including the phrase “please don’t disturb”, more effective than your natty pink one? Because, I must admit, seeing it from another person’s point of view, the pink one wouldn’t entirely warn me off from trying to talk to you. It’s nicely nicely discreet and polite and charming but I think a successful sign would need to do two things:

First, it should be completely explicit. “meg is trying to concentrate” is lovely, but from the point of view of someone approaching you, who needs to ask you something, that vagueness isn’t going to trump their need in their mind (even if to you their need seems trivial). Be more obvious about your desire to really, REALLY not have anyone talk to you right now.

Second, you should let people know when they *can* disturb you. In a sociable environment it’s going to look pretty rude and grumpy to just say “I don’t want to talk to you.” And someone who wants to ask you something is going to be frustrated if they can’t do so and have no idea when you’ll accept their presence. So something that gives the times when you’re not contactable, or that suggests they email you, or that says to come back at 3pm (or whenever) when you’ll happily chat, would help.

I’m sure there’ll be some muppets who disturb you no matter what signs, soundproofing, headgear other offices or firearms you employ, but not relying on headphones, and making the sign clearer might help.

26 Jul 2010 at Twitter

  • 3:34pm: @denisewilton The card would be so big people could re-print everything on that too. In case you miss it on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc.
  • 3:28pm: @denisewilton And people would be able to fit all their URLs, handles, IDs, addresses, nicknames, etc on it. Perfect!
  • 3:22pm: @denisewilton Have you just made a business card 70 kilometres wide?
  • 7:32am: Foursquare are upgrading their servers. NOBODY MOVE!