top of page
  • Writer's pictureMarleen Greenleaf

Modern Rules for Working in an Open Office

An open office can be a tough place to work. Many employers want to follow the lead of Silicon Valley giants like Google and Yahoo. They tear down walls to cut costs and encourage collaboration. Meanwhile, employees struggle with excess noise and lack of privacy.

However, with a little flexibility, you can hang onto your beanbag chairs and still get your work done. Try these tips for managing distractions and maintaining some private space.

Dealing with Noise

  1. Use quiet areas. Ask your boss for breakout spaces if they're not already available. Phone booths, private offices, and meeting rooms accommodate working alone or gatherings that include less than the whole staff.

  2. Post consulting hours. Maybe helping your coworkers is disrupting your own assignments. Let others know you're open for questions after lunch, and keep your mornings free from interruptions.

  3. Arrive early. Being the first one in the office lets you tackle jobs that need your full concentration. You can also enjoy your coffee while you plan your day.

  4. Stay home. If your boss is on board, work from home. You'll have more control over your environment.

  5. Wear ear buds. Many open office workers consider headphones and ear buds to be essential. You can pick your soundtrack and your peers can see you're busy.

  6. Listen to pink noise. Music is great for routine tasks, but it may slow you down when you're processing new information. Try pink noise or nature sounds that will be less obtrusive while blocking out background sounds.

  7. Speak quietly. Check that you're using your indoor voice. If you speak softly, your colleagues are more likely to do the same.

  8. Change the subject. When you're all sitting at one table, be sure your office mates share your enthusiasm for college basketball or the latest reality TV show. Otherwise, stick to business.

Dealing with Other Issues

  1. Control the temperature. While noise tends to be the most common office complaint, the thermostat comes in a close second. While you're trying to reach a compromise everyone can live with, dress in layers. Buy long underwear for winter and wear a sweater in the summer.

  2. Reduce stress. Some workers thrive on commotion, and others feel bombarded in an open office. If you need a break, take a walk at lunch or read a book in the park. After work, visit the gym or soak in a warm bath.

  3. Protect confidentiality. Transparency has its pros and cons. It's easier to keep up with the latest happenings in an open office, but some information such as client data or human resource issues require discretion.

  4. Clean up. A messy desk is your own business unless the rest of the team will be looking at it too. Clear away your coffee cups and takeout containers promptly. Leave your gym bag in your car.

  5. Limit borrowing. Office refrigerators and supply cabinets do not contain free samples. Show respect by asking before you use someone else's property, even when it looks handy.

  6. Adjust the lights. Appropriate lighting can boost your mood and efficiency. Dim down overhead fixtures that often cast too much glare. Rely on table lamps you can turn off when they're not needed. Sit by a window to enjoy the sun. Experiment with computer monitor settings to avoid eye strain.

An open office doesn't have to shut down your productivity and interfere with your peace of mind. Introduce your own adaptations and work with your company to create an environment that adapts to different work styles and tasks.



bottom of page