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What is an open space?

There is no doubt that office design plays an important role in how a company operates daily. The layout of a workspace holds several vital implications for any business, including cost, communication, privacy and social culture.

Open-plan offices have been around since 1906 when architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Larkin Administration Building in New York. Besides other innovations like air conditioning and built-in desk furniture, this workspace was also open-plan, with few walls.

Advocates of open-plan offices say that they provide more opportunities for people to work well, because they place fewer physical barriers between colleagues. This, they argue, encourages greater communication and teamwork. These designs fit modern business needs, too. They allow organizations to easily accommodate extra people, and they are popular with CEOs who want to engineer “collisions” between their people. These collisions are chance or spontaneous meetings between co-workers who wouldn’t normally connect with one another, and are seen as a way to promote collaboration and inspire innovation.

What are the obstacles

It’s arguably true that doing away with physical barriers in the workplace can encourage greater collaboration and camaraderie among 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. You’ll hear multiple conversations occurring around you throughout the day, both in person and on the phone. You may even start to notice a co-worker’s annoying little habits, which can draw your attention away from your work.

If these problems describe your situation, here are 5 tips that can help you regain your sanity — and your productivity:

1. Office etiquette

Sharing space will inevitably create tensions, as individual preferences, needs and work styles butt up against each other.

Involve staff in developing agreements about how to make the space work for everyone. This could be in the form of a facilitated workshop that addresses issues such as managing noise, interruptions, desk cleanliness and how to signal availability for interaction – wearing headphones is a common “I’m not available” signal.

2. Quiet spaces

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to concentrate, the office is simply too distracting. And if you’re working on a tight deadline or an important project that you have to get just right, that adds to the pressure. In fact, even if your office is relatively quiet and sedate on a day when you’re grappling with said deadline or project, you might suddenly find even minor noises or movements highly distracting.

Some open plan offices do incorporate private offices (or quiet rooms) that people can use, so escaping there could be an alternative. If not - try booking a conference room for an hour or two. Coworkers will assume that a scheduled meeting room demands privacy, and you will be able to work without being chatted up, touched, or otherwise harassed for the duration. It’s like having a proper office for a while, only it’s an office where nobody will knock on the door, and you can turn off your phone.

3. Fresh air and exercise

Fresh air has long been touted as something able to cure whatever ails you. And it’s true. If you make it a point to leave the office and step outside once every day, that can go a long way toward defusing any stress that’s been building from your open office setting. So head out during your break for a walk around the block. Go out to lunch at your favorite restaurant, or eat your sack lunch on a park bench. Don’t let inclement weather stop you; make sure you have boots, warm clothing, an umbrella — whatever you need to fight the elements in your area.

Remember to breathe deeply when you’re outside, too, to get as much air into your lungs as possible. (Deep-breathing is also a stress-reliever.) Exercise helps boost your mood, too. If you’re able, take a brisk walk or even run during your outdoor break, assuming your workplace has shower facilities. If none of this is possible, walk to another part of the building once a day. Simply leaving your surroundings for a while can provide stress relief and a sense of perspective.

4. Technology

Sometimes all it takes is a little technology to help you withstand the challenges of an open office. Can’t stand your colleagues’ constant chatter? Try wearing noise-cancelling headphones while you work. You can also look for a website that has a variety of white noise and environmental sounds to use for background. If you prefer music at work, a study showed that, for best results, listen to classical music if you’re dealing with numbers; pop music for data entry or deadlines and dance music when proofreading or problem-solving.

5. The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. The technique has been widely popularized by dozens of apps and websites providing timers and instructions.

The process is simple:

For every project throughout the day, you budget your time into short increments and take breaks periodically. You work for 25 minutes, then take break for five minutes. Each 25-minute work period is called a “pomodoro”, named after the Italian word for tomato. After four “pomodoros” have passed, (100 minutes of work time with 15 minutes of break time) you then take a 15-20 minute break.

If you have a large and varied to-do list, using the Pomodoro Technique can help you crank through projects faster by forcing you to adhere to strict timing. Watching the timer wind down can spur you to wrap up your current task more quickly, and spreading a task over two or three pomodoros can keep you from getting frustrated. The constant timing of your activities makes you more accountable for your tasks and minimizes the time you spend procrastinating.

Conclusion

If you find yourself having to work in an open office space for the first time, don’t be afraid. Talk to your colleagues to see how they’ve adjusted. Everyone has a different approach that may be beneficial to finding your groove. Be considerate of those around you and you will do just fine.

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