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Your Office Just Went Open Floor Plan On You. What to Do.

By Jamie Hergenrader

If your company is transitioning to “collaborative atmospheres,” (aka an open floor plan), you know that comes with serious distractions. In most cases, this means cube-less, office-less spaces with long stretches of tables lined up next to one another.

Sometimes this open office format really does come with advantages. “I can brainstorm for headlines with my coworkers, chat about the latest news as it breaks, and generally feel part of the team,” says Cathryne Keller, senior associate editor at O magazine. “I’ve bonded with my fellow staffers much quicker than I did at my previous job, where I had my own office.”

But, as we mentioned earlier, it also comes with the challenge of eliminating distractions all around you. If you’re facing an open floor plan, follow these tips to help you get work done.

Block out the sound.

You probably saw this one coming, and that’s because it’s the easiest solution. Throw on some headphones to help drown out the noise around you, so you can focus on the task at hand. But these have a dual purpose: Even if you’re not listening to music, by wearing them you’re signaling to your coworkers that you’re trying to get some work done, so hopefully, they’ll leave you alone and respect your (tiny) space.

Minimize others’ noise.

If you can’t wear headphones at all times, which is the case for Elizabeth Bacharach, editorial assistant at Women’s Health, you can try to eliminate other noise. “I never know when the EIC is going to need me, so if she calls my name, I need to be able to hear her,” says Bacharach. For example, if there’s a loud meeting in a nearby conference room, get up to shut the conference room door. she says. 

Manage your small talk.

This open office layout makes it easier to talk to anyone at any time, which is why managing your chit chat can become a valuable skill. When someone stops by to chat, and you don’t have the time, find quick, polite ways to tell them that you aren’t available at the moment, such as “I’m on a tight deadline and need to turn this around, but let’s catch up later about this!” Or if it’s a work-related query, ask them to send you a calendar invite, so that you’re able to block off time to specifically focus on whatever it is they’re asking. If you’re more into a blunt approach, consider hanging a sign at your desk that alerts people to when you really don’t want to be disturbed.

Change up your workspace.

As in, move it. If you need some space to yourself and you have a laptop, find an empty work room or conference room to sit for a few hours to knock out some work. “I’ll head to a conference room and close the door,” says Bacherach. “Plus, changing my scenery gives me a fresh perspective on what I’m doing.” If your company is pretty flexible about working from home, talk to your boss about why you’d like to do so, how often, and why you think it could help you be more productive with your work.

Be aware of your own noise.

All this being said, it’s important to recognize the distractions you create as well. Be conscious of the chatter you’ve got going on around other co-workers, recognize when someone is trying to concentrate, and be respectful of people’s space.

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