Noise and Small Talk In The Small Office

As your small office grows in staff numbers, so does the noise. In a small office you probably have a number of you are all working in the same room. So how do you control the noise levels so that there are less distractions and staff can get work done? Here are 6 ideas to get your noise levels organized without making it a big deal:


1. Make staff aware of the issue

Some people are more active and vocal, and others are more reserved and quiet. Often we forget that we are different have have different tolerances for noise. Try mentioning the issue in the next staff meeting or chat around the lunch table for people to be aware of noise levels.

Noise in the small office

There is no need to make it a big deal. You might say something like this:

Hey guys in this small office the noise can be a bit distracting. Can we try and keep it down a bit this afternoon?

or perhaps

I really need to knuckle down and get project X out the door this week. Any chance you could talk out here in the lunch room to keep the chatter down?

But whatever you do, if the problem is just one or two people, confront them directly and privately. Do not tell the whole group that noise is an issue. Those responsible will think no way that’s not me, whilst the quiet ones are thinking we all know who the jerk is, why are you telling us?

 2. Turn down the phone volume

Telephones are awful noisemakers, but here are some quick tips to get it under control

  • Turn down the ringer volume. If you can’t find a switch on the phone, but do have a volume button, try pushing it down when the phone is ringing. This usually works for telephones connected to a phone system.
  • Disable the ringers completely. There is no need to have 3 phones ringing if 1 phone can make enough noise to fill the room.
  • Don’t use speakerphone. Should be obvious, but sometimes not. Don’t use speakerphone if other people are in earshot.
  • No need to shout. Telephone quality is so good you can just about whisper and the person at the other end will hear you just fine.
  • Take calls outside. If you have to make a call, or get one on your cell phone, just walk outside and talk. Plus is a a good opportunity to get up from the desk and stretch!

For all of the above you can just start doing it yourself and people will get the idea soon enough that these are good habits.

 3. Just settle back in to work

Don’t want to talk to somebody right now? Just turn to your desk and get on with work. The conversation usually dies out pretty quickly if only one person is talking. If they are persistent, just kindly say you have a bit of work to catch up on and if you can talk later.

4. Nominate a quiet time

Usually small talk settles down naturally with 2 or 3 people, but 4 or 5 can give enough momentum to keep carrying on throughout the day. So if things seem difficult to settle, why not organise a quiet time? Say 1 to 3pm in the afternoon: no meetings, just personal work time.

The great thing about this is that the time after tends to also be quiet. Nobody wants to make the first move and disrupt a silent office.

5. Pop up a flag

This has worked in some places – particularly software development, research and other concentration-intense environments. Set a system up and use a post it note or some other flag on top of your screen to indicate you are really busy and don’t wish to be disturbed. Just set the ground rule with staff so that everyone knows about it – don’t expect people to figure it out themselves!

6. Eat Lunch Together

If small talk, gossip, and general chatter are an issue, try eating lunch together. Not only is it a nice social thing to do, you’ll find that a lot of the talking (work-related or not) can be done in that 30-60 minutes before everyone heads back to their desk to work.


There you go – 6 short, easy tips to try and get the noise levels down in an office. If you can keep the general noise levels down, small talk tends to disappear with it.

Notice we didn’t suggest to put headphones on? We would not recommend doing so. They isolate you, and some consider them antisocial. Studies have shown that listening to music might detract from creativity, but we just think it is a bad idea and distracting. Somehow the world’s economies has survived for centuries with workers not listening to music, and got a few projects completed along the way. You can too!

Looking for more small office ideas? Check out our other articles to give you tips and tricks for making that small or home office a great place to work.