Thoughts on work space privacy…

At the risk of fomenting an “OK Boomer” moment, I need some feedback.  A group working in an open plan office has staff who regularly wear headphones and listen to music while working.  The challenge is, earbuds are small so it can be difficult to see if someone is wearing them and music is played loud enough that, when a boss wants an employee’s attention they are required to do one of the following:

  1. Tap the person on the shoulder to get their attention, which often creates a startle response when the person in concentrating.
  2. Call the person’s name loud enough that, once the person’s attention is gotten, they think the person calling them is angry because they had to yell to be heard.
  3. Throw something soft at the person to get them to look up long enough to see that someone wants to talk to them (which, while potentially comical, could seem a bit aggressive).
  4. Email or IM the person and wait for them to respond  to talk to them (which assumes they are checking email and/or their IM is open.)

It seems that there are several possible solutions to the problem.  Here are the options available at the workplace in question:

  1. Workstations are made available in a secluded area on another floor with the same dual monitor setup as is available at each employee’s desk, allowing them to be “out of sight/out of mind” but still accessible in an emergency.
  2. While seated at their assigned workstation, employees are asked to provide a visual cue that can be seen from a distance of 10 feet, such as a “do not disturb” sign on the back of one’s office chair or brightly colored, over the ear headphones that signal when one is to be left alone.
  3. When sitting at their assigned workstation, employees are asked to play music at a soft enough level that they can hear when someone calls their name.
  4. When sitting at their assigned workstation doing “do not disturb” work, employees are asked to email supervisors to indicate when they prefer not to be disturbed for a designated period of a time.

One of the teams in question is, frankly, a bit frustrated that the current practice of sitting at their assigned workstation with their music loud enough to block out a verbal request for their attention requires any kind of solution at all.  Your thoughts?  What feels like a fair and reasonable solution?



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