By Wilma Bedford
Do you loathe going to work because you can no longer tolerate the constant beeping, whistling or ringing of phones, the chitchat of co-workers, the whiff of overpowering perfume, that freezing air conditioner, the certain knowledge that before noon you will have a nauseating headache? Add to that the inquisitive gazes as you pop pills with your coffee and withdraw into yourself to stress about reaching the afternoon’s deadline. Chances are you are working in an open plan office which offers no privacy, is noisy and where you feel you are constantly under surveillance from superiors or being surveyed for appearance by co-workers.
Recent Harvard research (2018) shows that open plan work spaces are ineffective and counterproductive. Employees facing constant distractions make errors which undermine their performance and increase stress. However, the open plan workplace is here to stay for a while yet as it is cost-effective, both in construction and furnishing. In theory it promotes interaction and collaboration among workers and tasks are performed quicker, easier and better due to the pooling of intelligence and skills.
Working in the open plan environment can be stressful but there are strategies one can employ to alleviate stress and reduce sensory overload as well as create time to complete the task at hand. Though there are several uncontrollable factors in this environment, such as chatting co-workers, people walking, phone calls, absence of privacy and the pesky co-worker with a garlic breath who hangs around your cubicle, focus on changing the things you can.
- Create a to do list, make a time schedule and stick to it. Prioritizing tasks eliminates distractions. Politely tell co-workers who interrupt that you will be available in ten minutes’ time.
- Familiarise yourself with the digital communication platforms used in the office such as Facebook, Instagram, email, twitter etc. Face-to-face communication has been reduced to 70% and digital communication has increased by 67%, all due to a lack of privacy in the workplace.
- Abide by the office rules. This ensures smooth inter-personal relationships, cordiality and collaboration in the work environment.
- Etiquette remains imperative in any work place despite the informal culture in most open work places and is the key to not causing offence. Behave with grace, act with dignity and integrity and show consideration to others. Respect your colleagues’ time and privacy. Don’t hold meetings in your workplace; take phone calls where you cannot cause a disturbance.
- Turn off sound alerts on emails and your phone for the period of time that you need to work uninterrupted.
- Create a visual signal to co-workers that you are busy and must not be disturbed. This can be an overt signal like a Do Not Disturb sign on the back of your chair or a set of headphones with music or with white noise to block out all acoustics. These will send the message that you do not wish to be disturbed.
- Ask co-workers to send an instant message asking if you are free to talk. Do the same to them.
- Note the quieter times in the office such as lunch time to do difficult work when you need to work undisturbed.
- Book a meeting room for a few hours where you can work uninterrupted. Co-workers will assume a boardroom demands privacy.
- If possible, work flexi hours. Work earlier or later or during lunch hour when it is quieter.
- Create a sense of privacy within your personal area with pot plants or pictures of nature. The colour green brings serenity.
- Create more privacy by positioning yourself in such a manner that your screen is not visible to others or theirs to you.
- Take lunch or coffee breaks by yourself. This is your “Me time”. Take a walk outside or read a book or do a crossword for a few minutes; this will declutter and recharge your mind.
- Not to appear anti-social, check in with your co-workers every morning to keep up with social activities. This will limit their dropping in at inconvenient times to share irrelevant information.
Surviving in an open-plan office
Apr 08 2016 07:00 finweek team
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