Asked&Answered: Adjusting to An Open Office Space

Welcome to Asked&Answered, our monthly advice column in which Ellen Mehling, METRO's Career Services Consultant, answers reader questions. Have a pressing concern about your job (search)? Submit your question here.


Q: Our library's offices recently moved to an open office floor plan. Do you have any suggestions for how I might cope with this change?

A: Ah, the open space office! Trendy, to be sure, but not everyone’s preference!

If you are used to, and/or prefer, a workspace with walls that go all the way to the ceiling, the switch to an open space can be jarring. First, try to identify the elements about your new workspace that bother you, and then consider your options for ameliorating their effects.

shutterstock_174876020.jpgIs there constant noise and conversation, making it difficult to concentrate? A good pair of headphones may help, or even a small white-noise machine or fan. (Headphones, though, might not be OK at your workplace.)

Is it the lack of privacy that is bothering you? Are you finding that the constant interruptions are interfering with your productivity? Are there unwelcome food (or other) odors distracting you? Consider using a nearby empty meeting room if one is available (with your supervisor’s permission and while informing those who may need to find you) when taking phone or face-to-face conversations you don’t want overheard. Taking a few hours in an empty meeting space might also help you escape interruptions and unpleasant or intrusive odors.

That said, a vacant room may not always be available when you want it. And part of the reason for this open plan may be to foster continuous communication, so taking time away from co-workers may be frowned upon.

Working from home may another possible option, depending on what is feasible and allowable by your boss and at your workplace.

As with contributing at meetings, observe others and follow their lead, or if that doesn’t give you the information you need or solve the problem, ask for advice on what is appropriate.

If you decide to approach your boss about this, frame your thoughts not as a complaint or demand, but as coming from a desire to do your best work. Be sure to mention that occasional quiet, interruption-free time would be helpful for your output. Remain responsive and in regular active communication with your supervisor and co-workers, so you are not seen as withdrawing from your colleagues and workplace. With a few well-considered actions you may find yourself adapting to this change more easily than you had expected.