How to survive the open plan office

Ahh the open plan office…… still a major point of contention for research on efficiency and productivity. They might save on fixed costs but are there other costs associated with potentially less productivity? That’s the topic for another time. The reality is that for many people, these conditions aren’t changing any time soon.

Your personal pace will be a big factor in terms of how you naturally respond to open plan office. Typically our slower paced friends who like to work for longer with less distractions hate them, while our fast-paced friends who don’t mind working in shorter bursts are not so stressed by them.

There are many other factors, too, which determine your natural likelihood of success in an open plan office. Regardless of your love or hatred of the open plan office, below are just some very general tips to help you to not just survive, but thrive in the open plan office.

Create some sort of physical sign for when you don’t want to be disturbed

We’ve seen many versions of this – some people put a scarf on their chair, many wear headphones, and we’ve even seen some people wear the fire warden hat. It doesn’t really matter what the sign is, but just having one which you can communicate to your co-workers means that you are super happy to help them, but just really in the middle of something right now and would prefer not to be disturbed.

Sometimes a physical sign is difficult to communicate, in which case, when you are approached by someone, just ask them very politely if you could come and see them at a certain time later instead.

Work from home

Luckily most businesses are getting more flexible in their policies around working from home. If you need some time to focus without interruptions, and don’t feel like having to wear headphones, working from home can be a great way to get that time.

Regular quick standing huddles for your team

Often the open plan office can make it a little hard to get a spontaneous meeting room. It can also be hard to find people you work with (that’s not always a bad thing). And the last thing people need is another meeting that could have been an email.

That said, having regular quick meetings standing up can be a quick way to get a quick catch up and save 140 emails that people send just because they can’t find each other and they need to know where things are at.

So it could be once a week for 15 minutes, have a regular corner to meet in and punch it out fast.

Discuss your needs as a team

Every team is different and every person is different. The most important thing to do is to make sure everyone’s needs and concerns are addressed so that you can brainstorm how to be optimally productive as a team with the infrastructure you are given to deal with.

Of course if you would like further information on the ins and outs of the open office debate, please contact us.


If you’d like to find out more, join the conversation in our next open workshop.