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A c-level executive at my company (US, ~300 employees) has a low battery in their smoke detector. While this person is on calls the periodic beeping is extremely distracting and annoying to me. There have been multiple calls where it has been an issue and the first one was over a month ago. So this isn't the first time and they've had time to fix it. If it were the first time I'd ignore it as maybe it started before the call and they didn't have time to fix it.

Maybe they don't hear it, maybe it doesn't bother them, or maybe they don't think we can hear it.

Also, another possibility, maybe this isn't at their home. They work in a different office than me so maybe it is there. I just have been assuming it is their home.

My main concern is seeming like a nag. I tried gently mentioning in the chat on one of these calls if anyone hears a beeping and only one person replied and they said no. So maybe others cannot hear it. I don't want to seem like I'm being rude but I do want the beeps to stop.

How can I ask them to fix the beeping noise, politely while still being clear about how detrimental it is to my concentration?

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    Where do they have the smoke detector? Hanging from the ceiling? Call facility management! – Bernhard Döbler Mar 12 at 16:48
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    @BernhardDöbler I don't know, it could be in their home or office. I can't see it, only hear it. It's a video call but they are only sharing their screen, not using a web cam. – Captain Man Mar 12 at 19:24
  • @CaptainMan - so are you certain they have a beeping at their end? It may be in their phone or device and not audible at their end. – Rory Alsop Mar 24 at 17:36
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    @RoryAlsop It was perfectly timed (38 seconds between each) like smoke detector beeps. I've been on many calls with the this laptop and headset and have never heard that noise and I've heard it both from my laptop and headset separately while they have been on calls so I don't think it's a hardware thing. Also, I don't know how to phrase this, but it sounded like a smoke detector beep and I know what a smoke detector beep sounds like. – Captain Man Mar 24 at 18:39
  • Curious, did you ever get this resolved? Smoke detectors with low batteries are incredibly annoying by design, so it's hard to fathom someone ignoring one for a month. Could they not hear it due to hearing loss? Was it in an adjoining office or something and they have no control over it? Maybe the beeping was from a different, quieter, source and they've learned to tune it out? – Kat Apr 17 at 18:19
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I would email the person. Say that you've been hearing a beeping in some of your calls and not in others, and that you're nearly sure that this person is the common link. Apologize for being unable to concentrate with the beeping and acknowledge that many people can, and that others don't hear it. Ask the person if it's possible there's a nearby smoke detector making the noise, and if that's something that can be stopped. Optionally, include your information about why you think that's what the noise is. Ideally, the person would check, fix the noise, and not reply to you or reply very tersely like "thanks, fixed" or "sorry, fixed." If they do, give them a very effusive reply about how grateful you are that they took the time to make you more comfortable and productive. Then never mention it again.

If they do not reply, or reply in a dismissive way like "not me", do not argue or persist. Do not close the loop. If you still hear the beeping in subsequent calls, do not send this person a reminder that you heard it again and would still like them to take care of it. Do not ask any more people if they can hear it. Accept the loss of concentration the noise causes you. Only if you come to conclude that another person is the source of the beeping should you take further action, and that would be to send a similar email and again let it go.

I'm very sensitive to noises and when I was younger I would do things like brushing past someone to get to the power switch of a beeping printer to make it stop, leaving them somewhere between startled and angry. I've come to learn that not everyone sees the urgency in these noises, and many consider it inappropriate for you to inconvenience them in any way to make a noise stop. From that position I warn you: you cannot tell a C* exec what to do, demand they make your environment more comfortable, or follow up to see if they've done what you wanted them to do.

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  • I definitely think I am at least more noise sensitive than my coworkers, there's a noisy device (HVAC related maybe) above our desks that drives me nuts, and I asked my desk mates about it and most couldn't hear it and others said they barely heard it. Thanks for the advice though. Luckily I have calls with this person very rarely and actually haven't had to since I posted this question. If this happens the next time I'll try this. – Captain Man Mar 30 at 16:18

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