How to Deal with an Open Office Layout (and Come Out Ahead)

June 24, 2015

I laughed when the doctor said we’d have to increase my meds once I move into our new open office environment, but I should have known this doctor has never cracked a joke before. “No really, you’ll need to learn new ways to focus and manage your attention in this new stimulating environment.”

In a few months, SUCCESS and its parent company SUCCESS Partners is moving to new corporate headquarters in Plano, Texas. New furniture, new design and—like many other forward-thinking companies—a new open office environment.

Now, about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association. Silicon Valley was among the first to knock down the fabric-lined walls, in favor of open collaboration and improved transparency, but now offices cross-industry are making the leap to wide open spaces.

How do you make the adjustment a smooth one? Patience and headphones. If you’re starting your career in an open office, or shifting to one for the first time, here are a few things to make your experience better and set yourself apart as a team leader (and not a team whiner.)

1. Understand that you’re now working for 2 (or 12).

In the comfort of your cubicle or office, you’re free to work in your own style: music on, shoes off, cellphone in whatever volume you want. But when the walls come down, remember that your individuality now needs to blend into a group mentality. Keep in mind these office etiquette hot buttons:

Noise: Cell phones, speakerphones, loud music, group conversations, lengthy conversations

Odors: Food, perfume, cologne, flowers, candles, air fresheners, hygiene, smoke odors 

Confidentiality: Personnel discussions, personal calls, sensitive information

Distractions: Hand or foot tapping, fidgeting, disruptive personal effects on your desk, superfluous conversation

Being adaptable and helping others make the shift is what natural leaders do, so take the first step.

2. Learn your individual work style.

Your work strategy is your approach to planning and allocating effort across goals, activities and time periods, says Carson Tate, author of Work Simply.

“This approach is usually unconscious and unsystematic rather than deliberate and rational. Nonetheless, patterns can be detected, which grow out of your individual cognitive style—your habitual pattern or preferred way of perceiving, processing, and managing information.”

On Carson’s Work Simply site, I figured out I’m a Visualizer, who uniquely sees the big picture but is quickly overwhelmed with the numerous details floating around.

That means I need blocks of focus time, when I can dive into writing, editing, planning or brainstorming, without interruption, but must also provide “interruption times” at the top or bottom of the hour to give other work styles what they need from me.

3. Learn your co-workers’ work styles.

The three other work styles include social butterfly Arrangers, uber productive Prioritizers, and detail-orientated Planners.

Planner types need focus and direct attention, while a social butterfly needs interaction and face-time to be more productive.

Know your and others’ work styles so your need to circulate and get verbal updates isn’t a productivity blocker for the big-picture person who needs to go inward to think best. Your co-workers will appreciate it and your boss will see your adaptability—a key trait in great emerging leaders.

Want to get more done? Research shows that frequent breaks boost energy levels and increase performance. Read more about increasing your workplace productivity through strategic renewal.

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