One reader writes:

Due to the pandemic, I am currently working from home with my younger brother, my father, two dogs and two cats. My father and I share the office – one of us works at either end of the desk with a distance of maybe three feet between us.

As part of my role, I am occasionally responsible for running system training courses for external stakeholders. These stakeholders have a complicated relationship with the company as they often see themselves as volunteers rather than contracted freelancers. The company relies on the administrative work they do, which can be quite problematic at times as they feel that we “owe it” to them rather than viewing the relationship as collaborative.

In the last training session, I was stopped by one of those stakeholders who mentioned that she heard someone speaking in the background and it was pretty hard to hear. I apologized, explained that I was sharing my office space with someone else because I was working from home during the pandemic and that unfortunately there was nothing I could do about it. This was a light hearted conversation, I commented that the lockdown had been a struggle, we laughed and that was it.

I was continuing my workout for another 20 minutes when another person interrupted me and told me, rather aggressively, that the background noise was making it very difficult to hear. She stated that this was disrespectful to her and the other participants and was unacceptable. I apologized again and repeated that the coronavirus affects us all in different ways and that for me personally this meant that I had to share my office space with others. She continued to complain and asked what I would suggest – for example, should she leave the call and join a different meeting on another day. I explained to her that we would very likely find ourselves in the same situation if she booked another session where I was responsible for the training, but that the decision was ultimately up to her. She hung up without saying another word.

That was annoying and really blew me away. I am naturally fearful, but when faced with confrontations I get very shaky and prone to tears. I apologized for a minute while trying to calm myself down, then apologized to the other attendees for being late. However, because I was so excited about the rudeness of this participant, the training session really failed as I lost track of where we had got to. I’m sure I skipped some key points because I lost my confidence and I’m sure that because of the confrontation, I delivered a really below par session.

What better way to deal with it? Is there an obligation on my part to do something about the noise or, given the pandemic and widespread changes in labor practices, is it appropriate to expect some level of understanding? From my side, I had the feeling that my office colleague was talking loudly in the background, but was inevitable because he also has to work and also does most of his work via phone / zoom. We both wear headphones to limit the background noise, but ultimately we’ll have to share the office space and be on the phone at the same time.

Is this person’s behavior worth complaining about or should I just leave it?

I understand the disruptive participants!

They shouldn’t be rude to you, but if they invest their time in a training session they need to be able to hear – and if not, that’s a problem for them should bring to your attention. And it is wise to interrupt you as you do this, otherwise you would be stuck during a session that you could not hear, which would be wasting both your time and your time.

I think you saw it as “well there is” Reasons because why there is noise and we all have to be flexible now ”… but if you can’t hear, you can’t hear. They have to tell you! It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong, but it is not sensible for you or her to spend time in a session that cannot be heard.

It would be different if it were something like a few dog barks an hour or the occasional but limited child noise. That’s the kind of thing that people need to be flexible about right now, as long as it doesn’t prevent people from actually hearing. But it sounds like this was enough background noise that really got in the way of people recording the footage … and that needs a solution.

So yeah, unfortunately I think it’s up to you to figure out what to do about the noise when it’s really hard for people to hear, or – if that’s impossible, which it could be – with your boss as an employee to discuss problem that needs to be solved.

One question I have is whether this has happened before. If not, was the day particularly loud or are you just not doing these workouts enough that it was a problem beforehand? If the times when you need quiet are relatively infrequent, there may be a way to arrange with your dad so that one of you can use a different room for an hour or two so you have less background noise.

If that’s not an option it gets more complicated and depends a bit on whether or not you volunteer from home. If you are at home because you prefer, the answer may be to have to go to the office on the days you do this training; This may just be part of the job that won’t work remotely, at least not with your current setup. But unless you are voluntarily there – if your office has not reopened, or if you want your team to stay remote or if your home is medical shelter – then your employer has more responsibility to (a) realize that not everyone needs quiet office space in theirs Houses and (b) help with finding a solution (which could be anything from reassigning this training if it is infrequent to renting space to conduct it from).



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