Love them or hate them, open offices are increasingly the norm. Big business and small ones have gone for this setup, and tech companies especially (think Google) have celebrated the benefits: It’s a way to create and use space that supports collaboration, engagement and performance.
Not everyone loves that setup, of course, and a survey last year by William Belk, the enterprise software strategist, dug into the issue. When it comes to high performance employees, he found, 58 percent said they needed more private space for problem solving. And 54 percent called their office setups too distracting.
So what’s the cure? Find a way to deal with it. The Landmark Forum, for example, which is all about strengthening relationships, on and off the job, believes that getting through difficult situations and environments takes a concerted effort to be the best you that you can be.
To that end, part of the Landmark Forum’s training encourages individuals to recognize that they may not be able to control their work environment. But they can control how they respond to it.
For example, writing on Monster, Mary Ellen Slayter, says an open environment requires co-workers to be mindful of each other. When one group is being boisterous, someone else is always wearing too much strong perfume, and yet another never covers his mouth when he sneezes and coughs, say something.
Others may not realize they’re being too loud or oversharing scents or germs. Be polite in speaking up and do it openly, but do it directly, as going to a supervisor could escalate uncomfortable situations.
Remember though, that there’s a downside to saying nothing at all: Your irritation may fester. And getting stuck in a victim mindset is not healthy.
There are ways to offset the noise distractions. Many employers, recognizing the drawbacks to open offices, have set aside private conference rooms. These can make good escape areas when you need a place to do deep thinking for big projects or just the privacy to make the periodic personal call. Make sure, though, that you are aware of, and follow the written and unwritten rules for its use.
Another option? Headphones, especially the noise cancelling kind. And to ensure your co-workers aren’t put off (which might be the case if your environment is highly collaborative), consider posting a note on your space that says when you’ll be back in action with the rest of the group.
What naysayers may not think about when it comes to open office environments is that they do have some less obvious advantages. Lynn Taylor, an author and workplace expert, points out that they make it easy to observe the goings-on of management and how successful people in different reaches of your company operate, making it a great learning experience for you.
And, as the Landmark Forum teaches, it’s all about empowerment and making the circumstances work for your needs. Because what you do to handle the situation is ultimately far more important than the situation itself. Balancing the line in a shared office environment can be challenging and if you need practice in dissolving tensions, review Landmark Forum’s “Self Expression and Leadership Program”, which teaches you how to express yourself fully, make a difference and be a leader.