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Open office set-up comes at a high price

It can be conducive to higher productivity or a preview of hell

Gulf News

Anyone who has worked in an open office space knows that this office set-up increases the opportunity for collaboration, but it also comes at a high price tag.

Distractions from coworkers who don’t seem to ever get over their cold and allergy sniffles, to side conversation, ringing phones, foot tapping and pen-clicking are natural when you put a good number of people together in an open area. And based on how sensitive you’re to hearing others’ noises — or chewing sounds — an open office space can be conducive to higher productivity or a preview of hell.

So what could you do if your latest office reorganisation has brought this concept into your work day. Quitting aside, because that is not a good option, here are a few points that could help you keep your sanity and increase your productivity.

Focus on the positive

Losing an office with a door that you could shut and work in peace could be understandably a huge loss and a major change. But now that you are brought into a place where you can interact with others more openly, do look into the positive outcomes of this collaboration, which are professional and social.

You probably are more likely to use fewer emails to communicate, reducing the opportunity for miscommunication and lengthy back-and-forth exchanges. You could have more ad hoc meetings, follow-up and updates, which all contribute to better work flow.

In addition, knowing others as humans could help you have better understanding of their personalities, priorities and interests, which eventually help you work better with them, especially if you’re in a supervisor role.

Open work spaces also could help you be more integrated into the daily operations of others. Although this initially may seem distracting, it does enrich your overall knowledge of other tasks that are relevant and critical to your own work. So, yes, there are some positives there, despite the nuisances.

Reduce your distractions

Many companies understand that working in an open space can increase the noise levels. Invest in noise-cancelling headphones or ask your employer for a pair. By avoiding distractions when you need to focus on critical work duties or just get a break from the noise around you, you will be able to be more productive.

In addition, make it clear that being neighbours with a co-worker does not meant that you’re available for chats, comments and conversations throughout the day. Set your own boundaries, especially if you feel that socialisation is getting out of control. You can simply say that you’re not available to talk because you’re in the middle of something, or have a sit-down conversation about how you need to avoid casual chats throughout the day to be able to focus on your work. The latter option should be the last resort, of course.

You also can point out gently to others when their chats or conversations are impacting your work. You can point out that you’re about to make a phone call or you’re beginning a complex project that requires your full concentration. In many cases, offenders are not even aware of the amount of noise they are creating, and they might be apologetic and more considerate in the future.

Get some quiet hours

If your schedule is flexible and you notice that noise levels increase around certain times — like at the end of the day when people are getting ready to head home — change your hours. Working an early schedule could give you a couple of hours of quiet time to accommodate your needs for more a peaceful environment. Taking an early — or late lunch — also can give you some quiet time.

Having said that, if the distractions are impacting your productivity despite all attempts to adapt, you must let your supervisor know that you’re struggle to cope with the open space. An email from human resources could bring noise levels down. Alternatively, your supervisor may help you change your office space to a quieter spot. The point is: Don’t let this issue, and your inability to embrace it, impact your performance.

The writer, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is a Seattle-based editor.

Open office space

Try to maximise the benefits

Set your limits for conversations

Use technology to reduce noise levels

Talk with coworkers or supervisor if needed