The struggle is real…

Open Plan Office Etiquette. What’s that!? Let’s face it, if you’ve worked in an open plan office before, or you do now, you may have wanted to literally pull your hair out because you were perturbed by someone’s Peculiar behaviour or you simply just could not be productive due to the constant disturbances.

Just when you thought your day was planned, you get to the office, all excited to execute your plans for the day, but the impromptu conversations, the ongoing noise of the printer, the sound of water from the water cooler and the conversations on the telephones and bursts of laughter soon disrupt your thought process.

Ring…Ring…it’s the telephone again. Err….where was I? Let me scratch my head and think for a moment. Oh yes, I was talking about disruptions, wasn’t I?

Sound familiar?

I know it can be frustrating. Nerve wrecking. Wrecking ball wrecking! Yeah…we all go through it at some point or the other.

So how does one cope with it? You don’t always have a choice but to work in that open plan office. It’s therefore best to find what works for you, to work around it, instead of frustrating yourself and others about it. Yeah, I know, you can’t always control what those around you say or do, but you CAN control your reaction.

Here are some tips for survival in an open plan office:

Ensure balance – if you curtail your activities too much, you may just restrict your comfort levels and it will affect your productivity.

  1. Avoid making or receiving personal calls in your workspace – take a walk to do this, especially when you are frustrated or even elated
  2. Check your voice levels – during telephonic conversations as well as person to person interaction, believe it or not, other people are trying to work, so do try to contain your emotions
  3. If someone is not talking to you, don’t intervene when you hear parts or all of the conversation they are having with someone else
  4. Don’t have meetings with people in your workspace – consider the people around who can hear you and are trying to work
  5. If you need to communicate with someone else in the office, not sitting right next to you, don’t raise your voice to speak to them – walk to them is always the first option., alternately, call them
  6. Don’t adjust the air conditioner from standard settings to suit you – rather adjust your dressing, keep a shawl at your desk if you usually feel colder than others or wear layers of clothes which you can remove if you are feeling too hot
  7. Don’t use speaker phones – neither when dialling or having the actual conversation – it is distracting to all those around you and it’s also not fair to the person on the other side of the line, who will have the whole office listening to him/her
  8. Avoid making noises that could annoy others; clicking of a pen, stamping the feet, humming or using a mobile phone to chat, which is not on silent and beeps as you type
  9. If the noise around you become unmanageable, try using headphones. Do be selective about the type of music you listen to; preferably listen to music without lyrics as this can be equally disturbing and/or distracting
  10. Avoid eating full meals at your desk as the smell can be very distracting to those around you. You could also accidently mess your paperwork. Eating lunch in a canteen or designated eating area will also allow you to have some healthy time away from your desk

If you enjoyed these tips, feel free to download  in a printable format:
Open Plan Office Etiquette

So are there alternatives to open plan offices? Yes, there are, lets look at one of them:

Remote Workspaces:

Open plan offices were intended to encourage collaboration and free-thinking, however, more and more studies these days are indicating that they have the adverse effect. Employees are not as productive and many complain about the constant noise.

There is an increasing amount of companies internationally that have opted for the remote workspace option, which also happens to be a huge cost saving, let’s look at some of those savings;

  • Employees will be willing to accept a lower salary as they won’t have commuting expenses, nor lunch or wardrobe expenses
  • Reduced sick leave
  • Reduced family responsibility leave
  • Employees are more productive, this increases morale and inevitably results in low turnover
  • No need to purchase office furniture
  • Reduce rent of office space

Imagine the impact this would have on traffic, with more and more people working from home, surely, we will also notice a decrease in road accidents. We do have the technology to be able to do this, so I wonder why not?

Should we not be focused on getting the job done opposed to watching the clock from 8-5? It’s not guaranteed that people who must be at their desks for a specified period are all productive. People are different and react differently to environmental influences. Whilst some can easily block off distractions, others can’t.  That’s the reality.

Some people are more productive at night than they are in the day, so taking a person away from his “peak performance” period and expecting him to write a report in the morning which is his most grumpy time of day, isn’t adding value to him or the company.

I really do wish that more and more companies within South Africa, in the near future, consider remote workspaces. I know there are some that do, but that’s not enough, well, not in my opinion anyway.

I came across this video, not very recent, but still offers great insight into this topic…

I would love to hear your thoughts; do you work in an open plan office and does it work for you or not and why?

If you enjoyed reading this, I’d love for you to share. Check out the links below…

14 Replies to “Open Plan Office Etiquette”

  1. You forgot one key thing; if you eat lunch at your desk, NEVER HAVE FISH! I have a coworker who eats salmon (heated up in the communal microwave of course for maximum stench permeation) every day for lunch whilst talking loudly on the phone to his wife(?) and stamping his feet. It… isn’t the greatest.

  2. The life of office living ! When someone eats a foul smelling food item at their desk is the worse! Thank you for sharing. I agree we need more options for remote work spaces

    1. Hi Cherralle, thanks for stopping by 🙂 Oh yes, how awesome it would be if more companies moved toward remote work spaces!

    1. I used to sit next to the printer at one stage and almost everyone who fetched their prints felt they needed to have a chat with me…that was very disruptive, I’m glad to hear you’re used to it 😊

  3. Great advice, thank you.
    I currently work from home but a year ago I worked in an open plan office.
    There was 1 or 2 things thats irritated me but I prefer that over sitting in a lonely office anyday.

    1. I guess it depends on how you handle the situation as well. Regardless of where we are situated, there will always be people or things that irritate us. How are you finding working from home?

    1. Hahaha but not so funny when someone does this often I can imagine. I have noticed that many people don’t have tissues available, maybe it’s a good idea to have a kitty to provide for some for the office…?

  4. I worked decades ago in an open office. It was weird at the beginning though I adjusted to it. I managed keeping focused. Nevertheless it was somehow restrictive.

    1. Lillicks, I think that is key – being able to adjust. It’s easier for some than others. Being able to remain focused will help but on the other hand, some distractions in an open plan office, make it extremely challenging to maintain that focus.

  5. I worked previously in an open plan office and loved it. We were more like family. We loved interacting with each other and loved all the chaos and jokes that went around but still got the work done at the end of it. We were always eager to go out off our way to assist one another. We had meeting rooms if the need arised for private conversations. We also loved sharing our lunches or ordered lunches together where we ate like one big happy family. I wouldn’t change anything even if I could 🙂

    1. I’ve had more than one experience like this so can relate to this. It’s such a fun environment to work in, when the team is in sync with each other. The cohesiveness certainly promotes a collaborative culture. I have done lots of training over the years for call centres/service desks and I find this is an area where open plan offices do work – it’s a culture of it’s own and so fun to be part of! Thank you for sharing your positive experience – which there are certainly many of.

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