Some people thrive on the interaction of an open plan office but for some, it can
be a nightmare, especially when you’ve really got to focus. Loud conversations,
ringing phones, other people’s mess and untidiness – they can all put you off badly
if it’s not how you like to work. So how do you handle the people, the noise and the
mess, without appearing to be rude and anti-social?
The jury seems to be out on the benefits of an open-plan office. Research has suggested that they’re full of camaraderie and creativity exactly because they’re open plan, though more recent studies suggest that they encourage employees to avoid one another while somehow fostering collaboration. The trouble is, the collaboration can actually be very distracting when you’re working to a deadline or really need to concentrate, but as an employee, you’re at the mercy of the office layout and other people regardless of any personal preference you may have. So, as companies increasingly adopt an open layout, it’s a good idea to learn how to deal with irritations, develop some survival strategies of your own, and see if you can agree to some team ground rules.
Firstly, it’s a good idea to focus on the positives of an open space. We all like privacy, but getting to know your colleagues, bonding, and developing a feeling of being in it together is very valuable in oiling the wheels of a pleasant environment and minimising potential isolation.
So, when you’re focusing on the positives, try not to moan about the noise and mess and tell yourself that the benefits outweigh the cost. Talk to your manager and see if they will instigate the conversation on how you can all support each other by, for example, coming up with a set of office rules in terms of noise, cleanliness and tidiness.
Even in an the most open plan office there’s likely to be an empty alcove, cubicle or conference room if you really feel the need to remove yourself from the hubbub – wait until a suitable point and come back when you’re ready. If they can’t see you, they won’t talk to you, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent absence – just make sure you keep it clean and tidy for the next person.
Don’t suffer until you get to boiling point but keep things in perspective and be prepared to compromise. That crisp packet on the floor might drive you mad if everyone ignores it for a week, but the chances are it’ll end up in the bin much sooner than that. We all know it’s really important to have a clean office, and a bit of common sense and mutual respect go a long way to getting you the workspace that you want.