It has been a week since I moved from a cozy room shared with 5 other people to a huge open plan office. Me and my 27 “lucky” colleagues were promised new working environment that will steer creativity and collaboration, and since we are a newly formed department, it seemed like a really great idea. I consider myself very social and open-minded, so I was curious to see where this change brings us. Yet, already after the first day in a new office, I could see how it negatively affected me and my productivity. I decided to share my experience so far as well as some conclusion I have made after 5 working days in new settings:
I enter the room and greet my new office mates. Everyone is excited, so we spend first half an hour exchanging opinions about the new office and helping each other with setting IT equipment. My new desk is nice, even though it is a little smaller than the one I had before. Also the view is lovely, so I am eager to start my work. But then I realize that the noise level is only slightly lower than it was when I arrived, people continue moving (It’s time of the day when people get their first cup of coffee) and talking to each other (in most cases it is work-related stuff but it does not make it less disturbing). By lunch time, I was already exhausted even though I hardly finished any tasks. Needless to say that second half of the day was very stressful as I was trying to catch up with assignments I started in the morning. I left office later than usual promising myself that tomorrow will be a more productive day.
One of the things I really liked about my company was that we do not have fixed working hours. Knowing that most of my colleagues come to work around 9.00, I often chose to come one hour earlier to have my quiet time for answering emails, making to do lists and having a cup of tea. But on Tuesday I realized that I am not the only “early bird” anymore. Many of my new office mates have kids who need to be picked up from kindergarten or school so they come to office at 8.00 to be able to leave earlier. This was when I realized how little privacy I have in my new open plan office. Also, I have absolutely no control over noise level – it is not like I could ask 27 people to stay quiet because I am extremely busy (or can I?). Surprisingly, while many people seemed uncomfortable with the new settings, nobody wanted to openly complain about it so I found support in Elan Morgan’s blog post “5 Ways to Love Your Open-Plan Office” . Starting from Wednesday, I tried implementing her suggestions, some of which worked really well for me.
As I learned in the first two days, it is quieter in my new office in the afternoon than it is in the morning. So the first thing I did was adjusting my work schedule. I moved all my meetings before lunch while afternoon was booked for tasks that required concentration. It was different from how I used to plan my work day, but I managed to finish all my tasks and I was less stressed that the days before. I also, started realizing the benefits of an open space office – getting to know new people. When you work in a small team, you usually end up having lunch together. However, since I moved to new office the group of people I ate with was never the same. Having new people around the table brought different dynamics to lunch discussions and expanded my knowledge on what is going on in the organization.
Since I had a very important deadline on Thursday, I decided to book a meeting room for myself for the first half of the day. (Yet another advice from Elan Morgan) While doing this on a regular basis might make me seem “anti-social”, it really worked well for me when it came to completing an important assignment. Still, I was determined to learn how I can be productive in the new office without the need to escape every time I need to concentrate. I never tried listening to music while working as during my university years I found out that it just creates additional destruction for me. Yet, I decided to wear my headphones to see if they isolate some of the noise and I was surprised to find out that it actually worked to a certain extent. So now I am actually considering to invest in one of those more expensive headsets with advanced sound isolation feature.
Even though I managed to adjust my work routine to the new settings, it has still been a very frustrating week so I was happy to reach Friday – the last working day before the long awaited weekend. When trying to evaluate my experience with open plan office I realized that contrary to popular believe, I socialized less with my colleagues during this week compared to what I am used to. Even when I had to talk to a person sitting just across the room, I often preferred to write him/her an email or send a text in our chat to avoid disturbing other colleagues.
To conclude, I hope that with time I will see more benefits in open offices or at least I will learn how to deal with the distractions. And even if not, it is not the end of the world. Still, I would appreciate if you, our dear readers, share your experiences working in open plan offices and tips on how to stay productive.
Work and progress,