Advice

‘How do I put up with my noisy law firm colleagues?’

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I’m struggling to focus now I’m back in the office

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one trainee solicitor is struggling to adjust to office dynamics.

Hi, Legal Cheek. I’m a trainee solicitor at a London law firm who started training entirely remotely. We’ve recently started hybrid working but I’m struggling to adjust to the office dynamics. What I find most challenging is the office set-up, which is open plan. My colleagues who work near me are mostly associate-level lawyers, who are great to work with, albeit quite noisy. One colleague talks very loudly on the phone and will often play music through headphones which I can hear. This makes it very difficult for me to concentrate as I’m used to working alone in my flat. How should I broach this with my colleagues/higher-ups?

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24 Comments

Wannabe Trainee

Drink water and mind my business by Patrice Roberts. Listen to that song.

if you cant beat them join them, when things go wrong you can always say:

” I was never taught or showed how to do this”

its a classic excuse and it always works.

(4)(11)

Associate at an Open-Plan office

You don’t, and you learn to work in a noisy environment/buy noise cancelling headphones and play classical music.

What exactly are you expecting from that conversation? For them to give you an office? For them to tell the associates to be less noisy? For them to be understanding that your work product isn’t as good or you’re not as efficient? Everyone in that office is working with those same challenges so you’re expected to do so too.

Essentially – suck it up and/or yourself some accessories to make it more bearable. You’ll get used to it or lateral to a firm with offices.

(60)(15)

Bob

On the basis that you have basically told her “your problem, tough sh*t”, you’re probably one of those thoughtless tw*ts that loves the sound of their own voice and wants everyone to know how clever they are because of what they’re talking about.

It’s not too much to expect that people have an awareness of the fact that they’re working in an office, and have a little respect for their colleagues.

Talk to an office manager or supervisor if you trust them, we’ve had emails before asking people to be considerate and use the kitchen or other social areas for group conversations. It does work. Headphones aren’t a bad thing either, but keeping them on all day may mean you are seen as unapproachable and also miss really helpful discussions.

(44)(13)

Oh dear Robert

God I’d hate to work with you

(16)(4)

Associate at an Open-Plan office

My sweet sweet Bob, interesting how you have assumed that the trainee poster is female (despite no indications to that effect) and that I am, what, your classic PE associate lad who is the one making the noise ?

Ironic also that you wrote me a long message to tell me how I am wrong, suggesting that it is you who likes telling everyone how clever you are.

Anywho, your office sounds like a bundle of laughs and I’m sure it’s a lovely culture of emails going around telling people to be quiet.

Trainee – it may be that the culture of the department that you are in simply doesn’t suit you (I found disputes and banking departments to be much quieter than corporate). You’ll be rotating soon, if you’re on the same timetable as most London law firms, and fingers crossed your next area isn’t as loud !

The point of my message being – you can ask and expect reasonable adjustments to be made for you, but there are certain things that are just part of working in a communal office space. Some other commenters have posted useful advice – but, realistically, I wouldn’t expect your colleagues to change (whether or not office managers send round emails!).

(6)(4)

Anon

This is precisely why working in an open plan fish tank is such BS. It’s also how you learn how to handle phone calls etc too though – by listening. It’s amazing what you can overhear!

If you have desk booking, try booking a desk slightly further away and if asked just say something like “I’m just trying a few new positions to try to learn from a range of colleagues / approaches” or similar. Or if not an option, can you bunch focus tasks together and go to a meeting room or focus area (make sure you close down teams / outlook) so you can get a few hours undisturbed in.

If you have a supervisor (or former supervisor) you trust / like I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking for tips in how to manage that kind of situation.

Look around you / look up – if others are wearing noise cancelling headphones then it’s ok too.

This is the downside of office working I’m afraid – like public transport, you have to put up with everyone.

(34)(2)

Anonymous

I’m confused. Are you saying it’s BS or not?

(3)(0)

Anon

Offices aren’t BS per se. What *is* BS is open plan. If firms would pay to equip offices so everyone could have their own space, it would be better. What they want is everyone crammed in like sardines.

(14)(0)

Archibald Pomp O'City

“I’m just trying a few new positions to try to learn from a range of colleagues / approaches”

hahahahahahahfnaaarfnaar

(0)(2)

Anonymous

Tell them you are a mass murderer.

(9)(2)

Anon

Would ear plugs be a suitable solution to this problem? Or would you look like a bit of a w*nker wearing ear plugs in the office?

(2)(5)

Archibald Pomp O'City

No, this is a sensible idea. Alternatively, if headphones are acceptable, as they seem to be, she could get a pair of good noise-cancelling cans, or the in-ear ones.

(2)(0)

Noise intolerant

Tricks I have learnt from working in noisy co-working spaces and in offices/departments where it is very noisy (go sit with HR/recruitment if you think lawyers are loud):

1) Noise-cancelling headphones or earphones – and if it is particularly loud, even play white noise through them. I’d tell colleagues that they should approach me while I had my headphones on, so they knew I wasn’t completely unapproachable.

2) Depending if you are a morning/evening person, come in early or late if you can. I shifted my hours regularly and would come in later in the morning but always work into the evening when lots of people had left for the day just because there were less distractions (both noise and people interrupting me). I found the commuting easier at these times too.

3) Many open plan offices have little pods/sound booths to work from – use them regularly and structure your day around when they are available/bookable. Book meeting rooms as well when you can. Alternatively, go and sit with quieter departments. In an Investment firm, I regularly sat in their in-house legal team as they were so quiet.

4) If you are allowed a certain number of days working from home, try to work from home on either Tues/Wed/Thurs and work in the office on Mon/Fri. The vast majority of people like to do it the other way around. Offices tend to be really quiet on Fridays in particular.

5) Utilise canteen/libraries or other communal spaces to work in outside of their peak hours.

6) Use your Teams status (or whatever other similar software you are using) to not only state whether you were available or not, but also set your location if you are working in other places outside of your team’s usual deskspace

You should speak to your supervisor about this more generally, but if you do, come to that discussion with potential solutions you have thought of to manage the situation. There is nothing worse than complaining about something like this but not presenting any reasonable solutions as to how it could be fixed.

As much as you like a quiet workspace, the louder people in the office could also feel less productive if they had to keep quiet all the time. You have to find things that work for you – it is ultimately for you to manage this more so than your employer as it is down to your personal preferences. What your supervisor/team/employer can only really do is try to then accommodate those preferences alongside all of the other individual preferences plus business/client requirements.

Finally, if you also find noise to continually be an annoyance, you may want to look into this from a health perspective. Certain neuro-diverse conditions and also depression are known to exacerbate noise intolerance, and therefore other forms of support may be needed outside of work to support you more generally.

(37)(3)

Kirkland NQ

Easy. Take two weeks annual leave and spend the time taking an intensive course in Krav Maga. On return to the office, should anyone speak too loudly, a quick axe kick to the head should permanently end the problem.

(16)(10)

...

This is like Year 8 humour, wow. Hopelessly unfunny.

(3)(12)

Al

A minor point, but Krav Maga does not teach axe kicks. Indeed, Krav very much disavows high kicks generally. To quote one of my old instructors : “If you want to kick a guy in the head, put him on the floor, then kick him in the head.”

(2)(0)

ADHD

Ruminate about how utterly stupid the concept of an open plan office is

(14)(1)

Works from home most of the time for the same reason

1.Noise cancelling earphones or listen to music (just tell people they can approach you)
2. Work from home if you can
3. Sit in a quieter area – if asked just say you are trying to focus without distractions

(3)(0)

Ravi

Are you perhaps mistaking a law firm for a library, snowflake?

(1)(6)

Fellow Trainee

I usually have my headphones in whilst I work I initially found listening to music was distracting but then a colleague mentioned that she plays the same song on repeat all day and when I tried it, it literally works to maintain focus on work whilst blocking out noise

(2)(0)

Gary

Absolute psychopaths.

(11)(0)

Trev

that’s a bit odd but whatever works I guess. I worked for some time on a project which involved being in a big meeting room with colleagues and clients with lots of chat but little focussed activity and I’d put headphones on with white noise to block out the hubbub while I worked

(0)(0)

Meh

I don’t think open plan is the issue per se. I started my career in a more traditional set-up sharing an office with a partner / other associate, and while you could close the door there was always a hubbub of conversation from the secretarial pods outside / people in neighbouring offices doing all their calls on loudspeaker / people popping in for a conspiratorial chat etc…

constructively, yes use headphones to listen to white noise / music / podcasts (i semi-listen to podcasts a lot whether in the office or at home particularly when kids are around). Library silence would be nice but isn’t going to happen (i did work at one firm where one partner who would talk constantly to his team at a loud volume was told to pipe down a bit). Also try making suggestions to partners that some etiquette be drawn up, whereby long calls should be made in break-out rooms rather than at desks.

(0)(1)

Tina

I don’t work in a law firm, but a very busy office. I went from working 5 days a week in the office to working from home in a very quiet flat. Now I am starting to go back into the office I find it is definitely much more difficult to concentrate with the noise around me, but I keep pushing myself to keeping going in the more I so that I am sure I will find better ways of managing it. I would suggest keep going and do as much as you can. Move around tge office if possible and you might find some desks are better for you.

(0)(0)

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