Tips to Make Working in an Open or Shared Office Better
1. Follow the Golden Rule
Treat others how you wish to be treated. Be kind to someone and they are more likely to be kind to you, but be a jerk to someone and they will probably be a jerk to you back. Be the bigger person, don’t judge, don’t discriminate, simply treat others the way they wish they would treat you, even if they haven’t been the greatest to you. Lead by example, others will likely follow.
2. Communicate, Let People Know What’s Bothering You!
Speak up! Communicate with your co-workers and let them know when something they do or say is bothering you. Far too many people stay quiet hoping that the other person will have the good sense to stop on their own. Unfortunately, people cannot read minds!
We also can’t assume that the other person knows their actions bother us. Sometimes people may be completely oblivious they are bothering someone until it is mentioned, and usually once they know, they are apologetic and make a good effort to change their behavior to make you comfortable (Not everyone is a jerk).
The longer you stay quiet, the more unwanted behaviors become ingrained in the work environment while passive aggressiveness tends to build amongst workers. Nip all these in the bud by simply talking about it like the mature adults you are!
3. Invest in a Pair of Headphones
For the folks who aren’t exactly socialites, a good pair of headphones will be a godsend. Not only will a good pair of headphones allow you to listen to your favorite music, podcast, radio, or show without disturbing others, but they will also help block out the circus of noise in the office while also creating a protective aura around you that usually prevents people from trying to disturb you often.
If the look doesn’t bother you, I recommend a big pair of closed back headphones as opposed to earbuds. The audio quality will be much better, noise won’t leak in or out of your headphones helping to block out those office distractions, and it definitely helps with that whole “don’t bother me now” thing we were talking about earlier. As a general rule of thumb though, be mindful of your volume levels as you should still be able to hear someone if they are speaking to you directly without them having to scream your name.
4. Work Differing Schedules
Many companies are opening up to more flexible work schedules and even opportunities to work from home. If you’re someone that really dislikes the aspects of an open or shared office, see if you could work an alternate schedule when less people will be around. If most people work from 9AM to 6PM, perhaps you can alter your schedule to 7AM-4PM or 11AM-8PM to get a few hours of quiet and undisrupted time. Perhaps you can work on the weekends and take your days off on the weekdays, or work from home if your company allows it. If your co-worker is taking PTO for one week, why not take your PTO another week? This especially works well in a shared office. With a little planning, you might be able to have the office to yourself for a majority of the week depending on your company’s flexibility.
5. Respect Boundaries
I would hope that this would be common sense, but please respect your co-workers’ privacy and boundaries. Don’t noticeably eavesdrop on their phone calls, or peer at their computer monitor every few minutes. Don’t pry for details on what they are working on or what they are doing. The same goes for personal details about their lives unless they are willing to share that information on their own. Avoid putting your co-workers into situations that might embarrass them or make them feel uncomfortable.
Last but not least, it’s just as important to respect physical boundaries. Be mindful of yours’ and others’ desks and office spaces and don’t encroach upon them. Don’t take or borrow things from your co-workers’ space or possession without their permission. Even with their express permission, it’s still polite to ask every time as a courtesy. The respect of a person’s boundaries is akin to the respect for the person themselves, which will ultimately foster more positive relationships and environments.
6. Establish Norms and Rules for the Office
Take the opportunity to discuss with your co-workers a set of rules or norms that you and your co-workers should follow to make everyone’s workplace a little better. You can address common occurrences like whether or not you should speak to your co-workers when they are on the phone, or whether your co-workers prefer you verbally call out to them or email them instead. You can discuss if you’re willing to be interrupted on your lunch or not.
Discuss other common disturbances like agreeing to not wear too much fragrance/lotion or use over-powering air fresheners, taking especially smelly lunches to the break room, trying to stay home when sick, or taking personal phone calls to a private space. Laying out the groundwork for what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior saves a lot of time and frustration in the long run!
7. Utilize Conference Rooms or Quiet Work Spaces
While companies are shrinking in office size and floor space, conference rooms and quiet workspaces are not disappearing. There are very few companies that are actively using their conference rooms for business around the clock, and most of them sit idle for large chunks of the day.
Use these rooms to your advantage, whether it be a private and quiet space to take a phone call or a place to go get some work done in absolute peace and quiet. Just make sure you follow your company’s policy for using these rooms, though the process is usually as simple as checking if the room is booked and booking it for yourself when you want to use it. Many companies won’t even require you to book them, so use that conference room to your heart’s content!
8. Keep Expectations Realistic
When expectations are unrealistic or too high, the result is unhappiness as the expectations cannot usually be met. Keep your expectations in check when working in these work environments.
Realize compromises will have to be made, and you’re likely not going to be able to have the ideal work environment you could have had in a private office. Much like living with a roommate, accept the reality of your situation and try to make the best of it. Give it a little, take a little, work together with your co-workers to find the right balance that works best for all of you. No, it’s not going to be perfect, but things in life rarely are.
9. Foster an Environment of Inclusivity with your Co-Workers
When reasonable, try to include your co-workers in as much as possible in the happenings of the office and other work-related events. Introduce your co-workers to people you know that they may not know. Keep them involved with company activity, reminding them of meetings, important work tasks, or project details that may have slipped their mind. (It’s happened to me, I once missed a company-wide meeting because my co-workers never told me where they were going off too and I had forgotten to put it on my calendar!)
If you work with a smaller group of co-workers, a very nice gesture is to ask them if they want any food or drinks when you are planning to go out yourself. It’s usually not an inconvenience to see if others want to join in on a to-go food order or coffee run if you were already planning to go out for it anyway. It’s the little things like these that make people feel closer together, more thought of, and happier to be a part of their work team.
10. Create Privacy if Possible
If privacy is an issue, as it usually is in these environments, try to make your own privacy. If allowable, rearrange office furniture or equipment to what suits your comfort levels.
For example, perhaps a room has two desks with one in front of the other. The back desk people can see the front desk people’s computer monitors and actions at all times, much to the frustration of the front desk workers! Why not take the two desks and put them together with the computer monitors back to back instead so everyone can have a bit more private screen space?
If full-on office rearranging is out of the question, look into putting up decorations, barriers, or other objects to block other’s views and prying eyes. I’ve seen people use everything from potted plants to filing cabinets to miniature cubicle walls to successfully create some extra privacy for themselves!
Thanks to MrHappyWork.com for the article!