When I changed jobs last year I moved from an actual office (this introvert’s dream) to an open-concept office (this introvert’s nightmare). It was the first time I had been in a cube farm in four years and I knew it was going to be a challenge.
Since hiding under my desk every day isn’t a viable option, I’ve had to find more acceptable ways of maintaining both my sanity and my working relationships. These are some of the ways I’ve managed to cope:
- Visual cues. When I want to signal to my co-workers that I don’t want to be disturbed, I put on a big set of noise reducing headphones. These beauties are currently my saving grace. Not only is it an easy visual cue for my co-workers, it also feels like I’m creating a physical boundary when I put them on. It’s not as good as closing a door, but in some ways it feels like I am. In past workspaces, I have put up a sign on either the back of my chair or at the opening of my workspace to signal that I’m busy. A friend of mine puts her task chair in the opening of her cubicle and uses it as a makeshift door. It works like a charm!
- Create your own boundaries. As an introvert and highly sensitive person, it’s the lack of boundaries in the open-concept office space that causes me the most anxiety. So, I make my own boundaries and I try to be really consistent about reinforcing them. When my headphones are on I ignore colleagues who are talking to me (sorry guys!). I want them to learn that when those are on, I’m not available. I also situated my monitor so that I face away from the hallway. It helps me feel like I have some privacy and it means anyone coming to see me has to knock on my desk or cabinet to get my attention.
- Take a break. When I feel really overwhelmed from the activity and noise around me, I get up from my desk and I leave the space. I’ve gone for a walk around the block, to get a cup of tea, or to a quiet corner of the building. Heck, I’ve even hidden in the bathroom for a few minutes. Whatever it takes to ease the anxiety. I also make a point of leaving my desk at lunch. I go for a walk to get some fresh air and a change of scene. I always have my eyes peeled for places that are quiet by their nature, like an art gallery or book store, so I can duck in and catch my breath before getting back to work for the afternoon.
- Quiet please. When I really need to hunker down and get some work done I’ll go into a boardroom or an empty office. I can spread out my materials and work in peace. I make sure that I keep my back to any windows so my colleagues are less likely to interrupt. I’ve also been lucky enough to work from home on a few occasions, which is a treat and results in a serious dent being made on my to-do list.
- It’s the little things. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in my day. Taking some deep breaths, closing my eyes, focusing on something on my desk that I really love, like a photo, or listening to a particular song have all helped me when I feel overwhelmed by the environment. I can do them without leaving my desk and they allow me to reconnect and recharge even if it’s just for a few seconds.
Being an introvert and highly sensitive person in an open-concept office is a challenge, but it is manageable once you find some solutions that work for you. So until there are introvert-friendly office spaces, I’ll just keep wearing my headphones and hiding in the bathroom.
Closed in a room, my imagination becomes the universe, and the rest of the world is missing out. Criss Jami
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