6 Tips for Surviving an Open-Plan Office

Today, open-plan offices have become the norm. It’s undeniable that these open environments help to facilitate communication between employees, and they also use office space more effectively than traditional plans. However, open-plan offices can sometimes negatively impact productivity – and even the well-being – of some employees. Below are six tips for surviving your open-plan office!

Stick to the rules

If you are a manager or team leader, organize a meeting with your team to define the rules of conduct that everyone should follow. If you’re an employee, don’t hesitate to suggest this idea to your manager; they may not be aware of the potential problems that can arise from open-plan workplaces.

Figure out a set of ground rules that everyone can agree to, such as keeping cell phones on vibrate, avoiding speaking in loud voices, and redirecting one’s office phone during an absence. Also, avoid creating strong smells (food, perfume, etc.), and try to eat in the cafeteria instead of at your desk – these are common rules that contribute to an enjoyable workplace.

Protect yourself from noise

People who work in an open-plan office suffer the full force of the noise generated by colleagues: telephone calls, conversations at the desk, the sound of printers and more all interfere with employees’ ability to concentrate.

Wearing anti-noise headphones or earplugs can get rid of annoying ambient noise, but if you wear them throughout the day your colleagues might avoid communicating with you altogether. Knowing this, it’s best to limit the wearing of these items to the moments when you really need them!

Protect your personal space

If there’s one thing that’s especially hard to preserve in an open-plan office, it’s your privacy. For example, in an open workplace it’s normal to glance at a colleague’s screen if it’s in your field of vision. But even if you have nothing to hide, it can be very annoying to feel observed – or worse, under surveillance.

If possible, try to position yourself so that your screen isn’t visible to everyone, or buy a confidentiality filter that will keep prying eyes from seeing what you’re working on (unless they’re right behind you).

Don’t bother people unnecessarily

Open-plan offices can give the false impression that people are always available, which makes it very easy for one employee to visit the desk of another – but don’t get too comfortable with this practice. It’s important not to bother your colleagues without good reason; book a formal meeting if you expect a conversation to take a little while.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to manage your office communications. Does it make sense to approach a colleague in person, or would an email be more appropriate? If you expect a conversation to be more in-depth, send them a meeting request.

Take regular breaks

Taking time to relax during the workday is essential. Use your lunch break to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, or if you feel like staying indoors, book a meeting room to get some time for yourself.

Work from home now and then

If your work allows it – and especially if they offer it – arrange to work from home sometimes. This will allow you to avoid your usual work commute and provide you with a change of pace during the workweek. From home you can work on calming, task-based projects that allow you to focus individually, as opposed to collaboratively.

If after trying out some of these suggestions you still find it difficult to work in an open-plan office, speak with your manager or the human resources department to try and work out a solution that satisfies everyone.


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