The Brave New World of Open Concept Offices
For the first time in my professional career I find myself in an open concept workplace. I have a cozy workstation with an electronic standing desk that I can raise and lower with a push of a button. I can access multiple focus rooms or team rooms to take phone calls, engage in noisier meetings – or simply get away. However, all of these getaway spaces are walled with glass, so the fishbowl effect is real.
The reality is that this extroverted woman is verbal and dare I say, loud. I’m a trained opera singer so my phone calls and meetings come with volume and diction that necessitate leaving my cozy cubicle. I find myself whispering when I answer a call at my desk until I can scurry into a focus room to finish the call.
Companies told their employees that these modern open layouts were meant to boost collaboration and community. Office mates wearing ear buds or noise cancelling headphones are ubiquitous. The open architecture has caused many people to socially withdraw. We talk less, so as not to offend our neighbors, and communicate via email or IM. Over 70% of organizations have open work spaces today.
The research is showing that this type of environment increases anxiety. Oprah Magazine reported that people feel they need to be perpetually “on” – always looking like they are giving 100% with a smile on their face.
Workers worry that taking an infrequent personal call will come with a perception that they are less dedicated, or lack ambition. What about the occasional bad day when you just need a moment? Being exposed all the time in an open concept floor plan does not give you space for privacy.
Ever the optimist, I’m doing my best to make the most of this new work environment and offer these open concept office hacks to help you navigate your workday.
- Create Signage – a light-hearted signal that you are hunkering down to get things done and tell your office mates that visiting hours are not in session. You can also create the flip side of that sign to welcome drop-ins for casual conversation. To channel Brenè Brown – Clear is Kind!
- Get Up and Move – sitting is still the new smoking (and that includes vaping) so get up from your desk and take a walking meeting. My steps have increased since I need to find a focus room for each phone call – a bonus opportunity to get up and move throughout the day.
- Work from Home Occasionally – Jobboom.com recommends arranging to work from home sometimes, if your work allows it, and especially if they offer it. This will allow you to avoid your usual work commute and provide you with a change of pace during the workweek. From home you can work on calming, task-based projects that allow you to focus individually, as opposed to collaboratively.
- Strengthen Team Culture – champion the goals and objectives of your team and learn the nuances of their open concept work preferences. It’s not just about what you want in a work environment. Consider your neighbors and learn what’s important for their workplace sanity and productivity.
As a leader, I strive to lead by example and model behaviors for my team and my at-large co-workers. I’m learning to be patient in my new workspace and explore different ways to approach each day to keep it fresh and productive.
At the end of the day, I enjoy my work and value my colleagues, so I’m adapting to the new normal of my open concept workspace. It’s important to give yourself time to figure out a new routine and create an environment that works for you. Onward!