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I work in office with a kind of a cubicle farm arrangement where sound propagates no-problem. When a cell phone not in silent mode rings it can be heard in at least 10-meters range and therefore distracts one-to-several dozens people (me included).

The company claims phones should be in silent mode but many people either forget or don't care so the policy is not fully working. I'm trying to address such cases when they repeat near me too frequently and most of the time just talking to a person really helps.

Yet first of all, I feel quite stupid coming up to a grown-up and explaining to him that his phone ringing hurts mine, his colleagues and company productivity (thank you, Captain Obvious). Also it's quite annoying that there's nothing that would remind of necessity to switch to silent except me coming. And finally sometimes people will persistently bring silly excuses that are beneath all criticism (like "it's strange that it annoys you").

What I'm looking for is a policy that is concise, simple, deals with silly excuses efficiently and can be easily enforced in an office. Is there such a policy already described anywhere?

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Could you get your office to agree that cell phones ringing are the equivalent of swearing? If so, then you could probably use something like a swear jar as a way to get past this issue.

How to Start a Swear Jar being an article about the idea if you aren't familiar with it. The idea being that you are penalizing the behavior you want to stop so that offenders feel the pain of breaking the rules. Additionally, if you can get everyone to be on board with this then enforcing it upon visitors becomes a bit easier as whoever the visitor knows in that office would be the person to explain why this is done, what the rules are and where does the money go in the end.

I do realize this is a bit off of what you asked, but this could be a reasonable solution to the problem you have.

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You should offer an idea about adding some penalty for this policy violation. Other way to deal with this problem - get a good noise isolation headphones. My favorite is Peltor Optime III =)

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Do those earmuffs also block voices? I've had a hard time finding a set of earmuffs that effectively blocks conversations in a small office. It seems like most safety earmuffs are specifically designed to let human voice frequencies through. – rob Nov 17 '11 at 22:57
Yeap, my personal noise problem was exact office chatters. It's not 100% chatter-proof but noise will be low and not so distractive as usually. – Alexey Shcherbak Nov 23 '11 at 7:06

Sadly, I doubt there's any improvement that could be made to the policy - it's generally difficult to set up serious workplace policies with penalties for small things like this. They're not going to threaten to fire people for it, they can't legally take a penalty off their paycheck, so what else can they do? I think you're stuck with informal social enforcement. And, sadly, I think any solutions you get to the problem of what is essentially adults acting like children are only going to be -more- stupid than talking. Which doesn't mean they won't work!

We had a similar problem in my lab with people letting their timers beep, and we ended up instituting a "cake list" - every time someone's timer had to be turned off by someone else, they'd get a letter, and once they had four letters (i.e. "CAKE"), they had to bring cake/cookies for everyone. Of course, there's no way of really enforcing a system like this, but it can work well if most of the people there are behind it. If it's always just you adding letters to the list, then not so much. ;)

Overall, I think the main point of a system would be involving other people in enforcing it, so the "offenders" could see you're not the only one who has an issue with the cell phones. And given the promise of free cake, it's not that hard!

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You're making an assumption that everyone's phone actually has a silent mode... Mine does not. It only has a ringer (no silent mode, no vibrate mode). I turn it off whenever I won't need it, but sometimes I may be expecting an important call and have to leave it on. Part of life in a cube farm. I have to tolerate the loud chewer in that corner, the guy that talks too much in that corner, etc. We all annoy and interrupt each other to some extent. Reasonable people will try to minimize it for others while accepting the fact that others will interrupt them. The root cause of the problem is that we're in cube farms... THAT'S what we need to concentrate on fixing!

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As long as the ringtone isn't obnoxious and the volume is set as low as it goes, I suppose your phone would be no less disruptive than the noise from a vibrating phone. Just curious...what phone do you have? I thought all phones had a vibrate feature now. The last time I had a phone without vibrate mode was 10 years ago...although even that one could have the vibrate feature added via a vibrating battery upgrade. – rob Nov 17 '11 at 22:49
Well, I agree that cube farms are uncool but sometimes noise is just too loud. Ringtones are not that bad by themselves, but people set them so loud that they can be easily heard from 30 meters - that's too much and should be addressed separately from cubicle farms. – sharptooth Nov 18 '11 at 7:34
It's a Motorola TFC139B, probably 5 years old now. – Brian Knoblauch Nov 18 '11 at 13:17

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