A guide to making phone calls in a shared space

By Carl Jeffrey

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"HELLO!?! I’M IN A COWORKING SPACE!" Photo credit: Channel4

You might assume that a phone call only causes noise disruption. But it’s not always that simple. Avoiding disruption when dealing with certain personalities, rooms and circumstances can require more social awareness than others.

If two people are talking and one of them realises they’re too loud for the environment, they will often reduce the volume of their own voice. And, as if by magic, the person they are talking too will do the same. Sometimes they'll even decide to move elsewhere.

The other people in that room were able to hear both sides of their conversation and pick up on its tone, speed and other social clues. They probably had a rough idea about how long it was likely to last and if it was likely to disrupt their own abilities to be productive.

When it comes to shared spaces used by many people, a phone call is effectively a 'one-sided conversation'. One person sets the volume with no real way to gauge how loud they are talking or how they’re actually impacting those around them. And because a 'one-sided conversation’ doesn't provide many social clues, it leaves others wondering if they themselves need to adjust what they are planning or change where they are working in order to avoid the disturbance. And such not-knowing can exacerbate any feelings of disruption.

It’s amazing how much of a difference can be made by just giving those around you an explanation of how long something might be and why:

"Hey everyone, I’m really sorry but I’ve got a phone call to make and I really need to make it at a desk. It’s only going to be five minutes. Would you mind?"

In this instance, almost always, everyone in that room is going to say "Its fine, we’ve all been there, go ahead." Such a simple explanation gives everyone the ability to plan and utilise their time efficiently. They might take five to make a coffee and have a chat, or pop out for some air and grab a sandwich.

Providing explanations and asking such questions shows that you do give a shit about others and the environment you’re in. Any means of talking or asking questions helps people build connections and empathy with others, and friends are made this way.

It may sound trivial but, after your phone call is over, there is a reason to talk to those people. To say thanks so much for that, or ask them how their day is going.

If you are new to a space it’s likely you don’t know many people around you. Empathy for and relationships between people haven’t yet developed. But no matter how familiar you are with the space or its status quo, meeting and getting to know the people around you puts everyone in a much better position to know how things might work and what interruptions everyone may or may not feel comfortable with.

Any form of disruption or awkward situation, like making a phone call, has the power to cause frustrations between people - especially if they don’t know each other. But with a little consideration these same moments can provide a huge amount of value and productivity for you and everyone around you.

Have telephone calls in your space become less painful?

Now it's time to make it the most productive and comfortable space you've ever worked in:

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