x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Workplace Doctor: Hard to focus through the noise from construction

A reader asks how a team of 20 is supposed to be productive when they have to shout at each other to be heard.

The company I work for is undergoing a massive expansion plan at the moment. While on a company level this is fantastic, for the day-to-day working environment it is a disaster. Management have bought the office next door and the construction programme to transform it into a suitable workspace is under way. But the noise from the building work is unbearable and staff are struggling to concentrate. The management have relocated elsewhere but have refused to relocate the team of 20 while the work is going on. How are we supposed to be productive when we have to shout at each other to be heard? PB, Dubai

Hi PB, luckily this is written communication as if not, you may not hear me. Oh dear, I do feel your pain.

Interestingly your letter took me back to the days when I was an employee, and it was not uncommon for us to ask why management were treated differently, being given a differing selection of food to eat than us. If the management are located elsewhere, then they can’t “appreciate” it as you all are.

My not so humble opinion is that this basically is not fair. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. Many reasons will be given as to why management can’t work in your building under current circumstances, ranging from “we couldn’t possibly subject visitors to this noise” to “meetings would be disturbed”.

These words are simply excuses. A manager’s results are dependent upon an employee’s productivity and performance, and if this is hindered then so too are the manager’s results. Which sane manager would accept that? Which drives the culture of your company – performance or entitlement? Gripe over.

This situation is a very real and common one within the hotel industry. A new hotel is built and the management team arrive on board before any of the employees to set up the systems. Pre-openings vary but as a general indicator a management team may be working in a construction site for up to six months. Some tactics I’ve seen them deploy to help them survive and sometimes thrive through this situation include:

• Have a backup plan

• When communal discussions, meetings, training need to occur, a partnering backup establishment is called upon or used as a venue

• Individuals schedule their most important tasks around the work that is happening.

• I’ve seen flexible working hours negotiated, which really brings focus on to deliverables rather than time spent

• Behaviours are “allowed” to match the environment. As a construction zone is noisy and dirty, casual clothes are encouraged, and otherwise unacceptable behaviour such as leaving the room to take phone calls or wearing headphones is encouraged.

If I was in your current situation as an employee, knowing full well that it’s one that I probably couldn’t influence, I would choose to find ways to cope throughout the situation. As this is a change to the environment, why not change some behaviours? Some that come to mind might include creatively bringing in a new vocabulary as a code or signal to each other for the common requests or needs. For example, “I need time out” or “level 3 noise is on its way” or “I’m going to scream, but no use as no one will hear it” could all have signals and all could empathise with each other through this adopted survival mechanism. A series of awards could be constructed such as “the silence award” or “the best noise rhythm” to be awarded by holding up certificates. In fact I can almost envision some work teams creating a new dance to a certain rhythmic construction noise.

Let’s face it – you all need something that will help maintain composure and facilitate a little bit of fun to break the monotony and reality of the situation. Why not ask management to develop this list on your behalf? It might make them realise how much you are having to cope with.

Doctor’s prescription

To those in the building, focus on what will make the situation more bearable, in this case a good dose of humour. To those working elsewhere, judge only after experiencing for yourself.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of the Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at debbie.nicol@businessenmotion.com for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague

Follow us on Twitter @Ind_Insights