In an open-plan office, etiquette (as well as teenage dreams of rock superstardom) withers on the vine. People eat highly scented soups and stir fries at their desks; one person’s filing system is the teetering pile of paper looming threateningly over their neighbour; coughs, sneezes and sniffles are shared and shared alike. If your workspace is really cramped, you might end up accidentally playing footsie with, or giving an unintentional kicking to, the person sitting at the desk opposite yours.
Accidental olfactory and physical abuse aside, noise has to be one of the biggest causes of dissent. It certainly is in i’s offices, as friendly debate and vital work chat between colleagues is what helps bring out a newspaper. So too, though, is quiet, the quiet time required by people stringing thoughts together into a coherent form for their readers to follow. Which is where headphones come in (Handel is my piped-in noise-blocker of choice). When push comes to shove, most of us can write stories in a maelstrom of shouting editors and ringing phones, but a bit of peace helps.
My husband used to complain about an office he once worked in. It was silent, because everyone was plugged into their ’phones. He found it sterile and unfriendly, a banter-free existence. In my office, bants come thick and fast, but when other departments blare out video clips from their computers to share with their deskmates, I can’t help thinking wistfully of a headphones-only zone.
But then I am a noise Nazi – I nagged a colleague I sat next to so much about the crunching, grinding sounds she made when constantly biting her nails that she gave up the habit.
So, what is the best etiquette for office noise? To live and let live or to plug in and shut up? I don’t know, but I do know what not to do. When sound, however bloody annoying, blasts out from another desk, don’t shout at the top of your voice for the culprit to GET SOME BLOODY HEADPHONES. It’s noisy, it’s rude, and it makes you (OK, I’m talking about me) sound like someone with no sense of etiquette at all. Sorry about that, Lucy.