How I Survive an Open-Concept Office

Woman at computer

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

Image Credit: WordPress


    2 Comments

    • Christy says:

      Using the earphones is brilliant. Several years I worked in a web development team with five other people, all sharing one office and working together on large projects at one large table. In order to concentrate on programming, I would put in earphones and listen to very loud classical music, which would drown out the discussions of all the others and let me concentrate. Being interrupted greatly distracted me, but it was necessary for me to help others with their tasks. Not the best working environment in the world, but thankfully I liked the people and learning programming made up for it.

    • […] for long periods of time with getting things done; B. Provide variety in my project load and interaction with others; and C. Look for opportunities to be creative on the […]

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