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Open Office Frustrations: How to Work in the Modern Office Environment

The open office isn’t a new paradigm. However, its prevalence in the corporate landscaping is increasing. While open designs offer benefits, such as greater communication and higher energy, it also has drawbacks.

Unless you own the company, you get little say in the office design. That means you have to adapt to the environment or seek employment elsewhere. While you’ll appreciate openness when handling team-oriented projects, focusing on personal assignments requires some creativity. If you need to learn to work in an open office, here are some tips to make frustrations more manageable.

Noise and Chaos

As reported by the BBC, open offices are often less productive than their walled counterparts. The constant drone of background noise and a sense of chaos is distracting. Additionally, a lack of sound privacy also negatively impacts productivity. Workers are assaulted by the sounds associated with every conversation and phone call. And it is hard to find a quiet place to hold more private conversations or manage business-related phone calls.

If you need to block out the surrounding cacophony, and your workplace permits the activity, invest in high-quality headphones. This gives you the option of drowning out the excess sound with something you find motivating. Noise-cancelling options can also block some of the noise even when your music volume is low.

When privacy is needed for a business call, check into nearby options. It may not be glamorous, but supply closets may buffer you from the sound. Or, see if your company is willing to create a pseudo-phone booth. A small space with some basic walls can allow employees to conduct the phone-based business necessary without the distraction of outside noise.

If the call is scheduled in advance, you can try to secure a conference room or similar space for the duration of the conversation. That way you can literally shut the world out while you manage your duties.

Constant Interruptions

Another issue revolves around constant interruptions. The open design encourages communication, but it also makes it easier for co-workers to barge in when you’re immersed in something else. This makes focusing difficult, as you may have to start and stop a project multiple times to manage randomly presented issues, questions, or even social efforts.

Finding a method for signalling co-workers that you are in “do not disturb” mode can alleviate some of these issues. Consider instituting a symbolic system that can be displayed on your desk. For example, you can keep two cups, one red and one green, in your desk drawer. When interruptions are fine, place the green cup in a visible location. When you need to focus, display the red cup instead. While signals might not stop everyone, it can limit distractions that aren’t necessary in nature.

Alternatively, see if the office is open to maintaining a “heads down” space. This encompasses quiet areas for work that requires significant focus and dedication. If that isn’t available, scheduling time in a conference room can work here as well.

Mind Your Activity

If you’re feeling the frustration that goes with an open office design, your co-workers likely are too. Be considerate regarding your activities, speaking volume, and interruptions you create to create a more harmonious environment. If someone in particular is causing issues, feel free to speak with them (if you have that level of relationship) or your supervisor if intervention is necessary. Some people aren’t aware that their activities are bothersome, so finding a polite way to have the issue addressed may save your sanity. Otherwise, it may be time to look for a workplace that better suits your style.

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