Cube farms are not so hip nowadays, especially to lean, young and cool companies such as Google and Facebook. Companies are starting to incorporate a more open office layout to promote better teamwork and communication. Open offices, or open floor plans, are just what they sound like- an office environment with more space and less walls. Whether or not tearing down cubicles actually leads to a more productive environment, you might end up in one of these offices eventually and will need to know how to cope with it.
I have experience in both cubicle and open office environments. Last year, the company I work for was bought out by a much larger company. Within a few months, they relocated our offices to a new building. The cubicles were replaced with “pods” or a group of 4 tables where 4 people worked. There were no partitions between the tables so we got to know our neighbors very well.
Pros and Cons of an Open Office Environment
When I first heard that we were moving to an open office environment, I was very excited. I didn’t really like being confined to my cubicle all day; I felt segregated and anti-social. As much as I enjoy the look and feel of the new open office, I’ve realized how distracting it can be to work and how difficult it is to get work done.
I love chatting with my co-workers and talking about things other than work. But there’s the rub! An open office environment does promote communication but sometimes the wrong kind of communication. Yes I can now easily talk to my neighbor about an issue that needs resolved but I can just as easily talk about her new puppy.
The opposite is also true. When I’m not in the mood to talk or need to get work done, sometimes a co-worker will come over and want to talk. Whether or not it’s work related, I am always distracted from the task at hand.
Another issue is visual distractions. Previously when I worked in a cube, I had two options of what to look at – my computer monitor or the ugly beige partition. Now in the open office I literally can see everything.
For whatever reason, I always look up from my work whenever someone walks by, talks loudly on the phone, or stands up at their desk. Maybe it’s natural instinct. Unfortunately, they do not make blinders for humans like they do for race horses. (I actually just did a quick Google search, Cabela’s sells people blinders for $7.99. Totally buying a pair.)
Staying Productive in an Open Office Environment
I’ve worked in an open office environment for over 6 months and have learned a few things to stay productive. First, you must realize that there are a limited number of things you can control in this environment. Therefore, staying patient is key while you adapt to this new environment.
Invest in good headphones – Using headphones does two things, it drowns out any outside noise and lets everyone else know that you do not want to be distracted. I prefer to listen to either upbeat or classical music while I work, but some people find listening to music distracting. Instead, there are plenty of white noise options available on Spotify or Pandora.
Be honest with your co-workers – It’s easy to ignore an email, but when a co-worker stops by your desk at an inconvenient time, just be honest and tell them you are busy. Most people understand that you can’t just drop everything you are doing. Tell them to follow up with an email and give them a time table on when you’ll respond.
A few other “extreme” measures you can take are:
- Book a conference room when you absolutely need peace and quite to get work done
- Put up a “Do Not Disturb Sign” on your desk
- Work from home once a week
- Request to sit in a quieter part of the office
- Set designated times on your calendar to answer emails and return phone calls
- Put away your cell phone to eliminate one more distraction
Do you work in an open office? If so, do you like or dislike it?