Open offices have become a thing over the past few years, and while they have a lot to offer in terms of productivity and sociability, they also present a host of challenges. One of these challenges is the noise, and it’s quickly becoming the biggest barrier to a productive and pleasant work day.
Say what you will about cubicles, but the fact remains: For better and for worse, they offer both real and perceived barriers to noise in the workplace, and they might result in a more restful atmosphere overall!
What’s The Problem?
When open offices first became “a thing,” we were told they would bring about positive and dramatic shifts in the way employees work and interact with one another. Were we wrong? Yes and no — depending on how you look at it.
It’s arguably true that doing away with physical barriers in the workplace can encourage greater collaboration and camaraderie among millennial employees, but we’ve quickly reached the point of diminishing returns. With more collaboration comes more talking. With more talking comes more distractions, and with more distractions come drops in productivity. It seems we’ve come full circle.
Make no mistake — The open floor plan began with good intentions, but as it turns out, millennials are more likely to complain about noise pollution in open offices than in “traditional” workplaces, and they find excess noise detrimental to their productivity. If you can believe it, further studies have deduced that intermittent talking is somehow even more disruptive than constant talking.
If these problems describe your situation, here are a few tips that can help you regain your sanity — and your productivity!
1. Encourage A Compromise — This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If open floor plans were an imperfect solution, so is a full-blown reversion to an all-private space. If you’ve found yourself wishing for a more private location to get some work done, it might be time to start a conversation with your employer about finding a happy medium.
Think it’s a pipe-dream? Think again. Some of the most successful and productive work environments are ones that provide more than one type of workspace — open environments when teamwork is called for, and private offices and conference rooms, where employees can vanish if they need to immerse themselves in a project that has a hard deadline.
2. Perform Sensitive Or Disruptive Work Elsewhere — Even if you’ve hit a brick wall in convincing your employer to make a change, there are things you can do on your own to both limit your contribution to the ambient noise level and to give yourself a heightened sense of privacy for when you perform sensitive work.
If, for example, you find yourself making lengthy or disruptive phone calls for work purposes from your spot in an open floor plan, think about taking them elsewhere. Yes, it can be useful to have access to your PC while you’re on the phone — with a client, say — but as the saying goes if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re probably a part of the problem.
3. Investigate Remote Working Opportunities — This is less a solution for coping with an open floor plan and more a solution for escaping it, but it’s still perfectly valid if you find yourself struggling to complete your work. This obviously depends on your line of work, but there’s a good chance you can do some or even all of your work from home, or another remote location of your choosing. Investigate your remote working opportunities, you might have found already the solution!
4. Use Signs And Signals — The unconscious message sent by open floor plans is that any employee may be approached at any time, for any reason. If you frequently require uninterrupted periods of time with which to complete your work, consider making some kind of lighthearted sign or signal to indicate when you don’t want to be interrupted!
5. When All Else Fails, Switch To Different Headphones — If none of the above solutions is a great fit for you and your unique circumstances, there’s still good news: Noise-canceling headphones are more affordable than ever. You might have to prepare yourself for the occasional jump-scare when employees approach you unseen, but these could be a godsend if you just need to tune out for a while!
In another few years, we’ll probably be jawing about the downsides of yet another office organization paradigm, but for right now, the open office is what we’ve got to work with. As you’ve hopefully seen, surviving such a setting with your productivity intact might be a challenge, but it’s not impossible.