Our physical workspace environment impacts our workplace experience. It also impacts our productivity – both in our ability to focus and in our ability to collaborate. Many organizations regret the loss of spaces that provide team members with both privacy and camaraderie – yet they are often stuck in long leases.

I received this question a few weeks ago:

“The other day, some co-workers were having an impromptu meeting around a cubicle and joking around while problem solving and laughing. Keep in mind, the cubes are the entire office space but also the only readily accessible group space. One of the bosses came out of their office and shushed everyone.

The ones with offices have doors that they can close, no one else has that luxury. Now the office is so uncomfortably quiet you can hear everyone typing. I had someone comment on how they could hear their neighbor’s stomach grumble. People are having to work from home to train or attend webinars and talking on the phone is done in hushed whispers. Any suggestions on what to do?”

First, for those of you who are looking for either too quiet or too noisy office solutions – here are a couple of great resources my team curated for excellent how-to suggestions to alleviate the too loud/too quiet experience:

In addition to some interesting research, my favorite innovative suggestion included in these articles is that of adding an indoor waterfall. Also consider in the world of noisy office solutions providing a rejuvenation room.

Fear not! This avatar is facing outward

I’ll also add here, I had a CEO share with me a solution that his programming team (many of who choose to wear headphones to create privacy and focus in their hip open office space) came up with a way to signal when they can interrupt a co-worker. Each team member has their own playful avatar that sits at the corner of their desk and when the avatar is facing outward they’re open to being interrupted – inward, they are deep in work flow concentration.

Yet all of the above is somewhat besides the point of this team member’s dilemma.

The point is this: speak up and reach a solution.

For the team member who sent me the above dilemma, here’s how you can speak up and reach a solution.  Reach out to the boss who “shushed” everyone. First, acknowledge their humanity. I get they are a boss, but they are also delightfully imperfect like you and I. S/he doesn’t know the impact of their shushing; their intention was to support the team in being able to focus and get work done.

Reach out and simply say, “Hey, I know your intention the other day when X, Y and Z were having an impromptu meeting was to make sure it was quiet enough for everyone to work – however as silly as it may seem, the impact has been the creation of this weird ominous quiet cloud of nervousness to cause any noise – which is keeping people from connecting and collaborating and has actually made it harder to focus.  Some people are even going off-site to do trainings or make calls.  Can we have a team discussion on how to best create a space where people can both focus and dialogue?  My sense is this would be really healthy for our culture and our productivity.”

It is THIS culture context – one in which anyone in the organization can talk to anyone else in the organization in the interest of improving the workplace – that will make THE difference.

Do you need a solution to one of your workplace culture conundrums? Feel free to email Kris your questions at Kris@choosepeople.com


Team Building/Culture Building Activity:

Make the point that a shared vision matters.

The next time you get your team together in the same room do the following short exercise:

  • Ask everyone to stand anywhere in the room.
  • Ask them to all take 2 steps to the right.
  • Then ask them to take 4 steps back.
  • Then request they turn 90 degrees to their left.

At this point, everyone will be in random positions around the room.

Then share, “It doesn’t matter if we all follow the directions perfectly – if we aren’t all present to the shared vision of where we’re headed – we’ll end up all over the place.”