Open Plan Office Got You Down? We’ve Got Solutions to Your Work Sitch

We'd place a healthy wager that the person responsible for the office open floor plan was a social butterfly whose first work priority was not productivity. But for the rest of us, who are more likely to meet our deadlines with a little peace and quiet, the lack of an office might stand between us and the promotion that will, well, get us an office.

"There's a whole mountain of research out there talking about how problematic it can be to be working completely out there, subject to interruption all day long [and] never really getting to focus," Susan Cain, the best-selling author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," told CNBC.

According to a survey by the research firm IPSOS, employees who work in an open floor office lose 86 minutes a day due to distractions. In fact, most employees (95 percent) would rather work in enclosed private spaces.

Open floor plans lack the privacy most of us need for at least a few minutes each day and not having it can be especially hard on women. The book What Works for Women at Work cites recent research indicates that the lack of privacy affects women more than men. Because women often feel they walk a tightrope at work between being "too" feminine and "too" masculine, being on constant display in the open floor plan is downright exhausting.

How to deal so you can sail to the top of the corporate ladder? We've got some ideas.

Reclaim Your Space

Make your desk aesthetically pleasing. Put something green next to your monitor, like an office friendly TK and place a photo nearby. Invest in a reusable coffee cup and keep a cardigan on the back of your chair for the arctic air-conditioning.

"A few personal effects, like a photo, a desk toy that expresses your personality or a sweater you can wear if it gets too cold (and we all know how chilly it gets in open offices) will make your desk — flexible seating or not — feel like a place you can settle in and get work done," writes Smarter Living editor, Alan Henry, at the New York Times.

Observe the Headphone Rule

Wearing headphones is the one universally observed signal in the open floor plan that means "Do Not Disturb." Interrupter beware.

"I put on headphones to signal that I'm unavailable," Hazel Jennings, a veteran of the Silicon Valley open floor plan, told Highfive. "I don't even have music playing half the time."

Don't rely on the tiny earbuds that came with your iPhone. Get unsubtle — and unmissable to passersby — noise-cancelling headphones.

Practice Clear and Direct Communication

So Chatty Cathy Coworker isn't getting the picture and keeps dropping by when you've got your headphones on to ask if you've got a second to read her marketing copy, or worse, bend your ear about her kid's school play. You've sent the visual cues, now it's time to talk the talk — so you don't have to jabber the day away and blow your deadline.

"Remember, being assertive is not the same as being aggressive," offer the sage editors at Lifehacker, "and thinking the two are the same will paralyze you from drawing the boundaries you need in the office to get your work done and stay productive without distractions."

They even offer scripts worth committing to memory: "Do you mind if I stop by and catch up with you later? I want to finish my lunch," or "I'm really buried right now. Mind if we chat another time?"


Perhaps your boss will allow you to work from home when you need absolute focus on a project, or you can camp out in a conference room for a couple hours to pound something out in peace and quiet.

"Sometimes, you just need a few minutes of privacy or a room to to focus and not be disturbed," Roy Mann, chief executive and co-founder of monday.com, a company that helps teams collaborate better, told the New York Times. "For an open space to be effective, people also need to have the ability to sit alone or with someone else in private."

If people are interpreting your lunch hour as a chance to catch-up, take your sandwich into the sunshine. Seriously, the break — and the outdoors — will do your brain some serious good.

Just remember, you're not a prisoner to the open floor plan. Think of it this way: The open floor plan may not allow you to close the door on the distractions, but it also can't keep you from moving elsewhere.

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