The Velvet Hammer: 4.11.18

Q: Our firm has torn down our workstation walls to create an open office environment. My colleagues and I are crammed together in a sea of desks, and I’m having difficulty getting my work done. Any hints on how to survive my new digs?
—Need an Open Office Survival Plan

A: Although employers tout these space-saving offices as a way to accelerate collaboration and creativity, for many like yourself, this chaotic layout plan makes concentrating on the job challenging at best. For those of you who are trapped in an open office without an escape plan, here are some tools to help you tune out and focus on the job. Try some noise-cancelling headphones that generate sound waves to effectively dull or even block ambient noise such as the copier or your delightful new tub-mate’s apple chomping. Go green with some plants and make them your new buds in your open office. Plants not only will personalize your workspace, but they also may add a modicum of privacy (as well as boost air quality).

Perhaps you can convince HR to implement some new house rules that set quiet hours for staff to use for heads down work. In fact, some companies have people wear special caps when they do not want to be disturbed. Other preferable measures might include desktop flags, lights and signs to let co-workers know you are on a tight deadline. A couple of other thoughts: portable table dividers can convert shared spaces and carve out a semi-isolated cubicle, and hanging desk lamps can double as noise-dampening dividers.

For those of you unnerved by your work group members strolling behind you while editing sensitive documents, you easily can stick privacy filters on your computer screen, limiting visibility to nosey onlookers. However, if you need complete privacy to discuss a client matter or make a personal call, find a conference room with doors. Or, take your cell phone and find a place (even your car) where you can keep these respective conversations private. Some offices have created areas for quiet computer work and small enclosures for phone calls and quick meetings. Other offices have installed sound-insulated phone booths. These solutions have helped ease office tensions.

As open offices become the rule for more companies, hopefully people will learn to update their manners and acknowledge they are sharing space with others. Until then, remember Teddy Roosevelt’s sage advice: “Speak softly and never forget your headphones.”

P.S. Hopefully next year’s office trend will be workstation walls and privacy.

If you have a question for Joan, send it to Joan Lee Berkman is a marketing and public relations consultant.