Open Office Etiquette and Ground Rules

Today, 70% of offices are open plan. This might suggest that the system is an unqualified success.

It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that, if the open office weren’t a productive, popular and economically positive work environment it wouldn’t have been adopted by an overwhelming majority of businesses.

The truth, however, isn’t so simple.

For many of us, open offices are noisy and distracting enough to affect our satisfaction and happiness at work. And although, according to theory, open offices are conducive to face-to-face interactions, frequently the practice doesn't bear this out.

On the contrary. For many, the open office mean a lack of privacy – which can be perceived as an annoyance to a source of genuine stress. We all have different expectations and requirements of ‘personal space‘.

Studies have suggested this affects productivity. And the bottom line is that the open office can affect the overall work performance. It is anything but an economically sound strategy. Clearly, the theory and the practice of the open office need to be reconciled. And, pragmatically, those of us who actually work in an open office need to find solutions in the meantime. Fortunately, this isn’t difficult to achieve.

Be aware

Some things are notoriously annoying. We have nothing to lose by being a better neighbour.

Think about your volume.

High-volume phone conversations, music and content aren’t considerate.

Think about the air.

Smelly sandwiches and hand-creams are notoriously off-putting. And probably best to keep your shoes on.

Think about your space.

It’s safe to indulge in unconscious desk-drumming and foot-tapping in the privacy of your early 20th century private office, but in the open office it’s distracting and, well – un-neighbourly.

Think about your stuff.

Another commonly expressed source of dissatisfaction in the open office comes from desk-creep and the office-wide distribution of our possessions. Use the cloakroom or your personal drawer to store your items.

Let others do their thing.

If someone has their noise-cancelling headphones on, maybe message them instead. It takes us a good few minutes to re-compose ourselves after every distraction.

Let others have their privacy.

Wandering around inspecting others’ monitors is famously off-putting.

Let others have their health.

If you have a cold, consider working remotely. The open office is, in this case, a little too open for comfort.

Be on top of it all Even in the perfect open office, you’ll need strategies to survive.

Beat distractions.

Concentration techniques such as the pomodoro technique, which helps you to manage your time and stay focused.

Read the room.

Functional open offices have different spaces for different tasks. Desk meetings are distracting –find a table for one-on-ones. Designate spaces for teleconferencing, focussed work, and informal work.

Deal with it

If something’s annoying you, don’t pretend it isn’t happening.

… and Adapt

The key to making the best of the open office is finding a balance between the need to focus and the opportunities for communication. Audio tools designed for the open office can help. Headsets engineered to dissolve ambient noise and enhance speech let us be heard. Active Noise Cancellation headphones with superior audio mean concentration in the noisiest, most crowded spaces – and send a diplomatic signal you’re currently unavailable. Furthermore, an EPOS Busy Light on your desk politely communicates you’re, well – busy. It synchs with your communication devices and channels – whatever they are.