4 practical tactics to increase performance in an open office

By Scot Herrick | Cube Rules Commentary

Jun 26

It’s clear that office design significantly impacts the performance of employees. Even though numerous studies demonstrated how open-plan offices increase stress, decrease productivity and affect workers’ satisfaction, businesses still choose this style when setting up their offices. How do you survive in a shared office, when you’re sitting at a long table and have virtually no privacy? Here are 4 key tips to help you be productive and happy at your open-plan office.

1. Lack of privacy

This is easily the most common complaint of workers who face the reality of a shared office daily. Managers and designers are convinced that such offices foster communication among employees, making them more relaxed and creative. The reality is completely different – this study showed that while conversations are a common occurrence, they tend to be just small talk.

The best way to make this shared space comfortable is to set up some golden rules with your fellow employees. No loud music, keeping your physical belongings on your desk, avoiding loud phone calls or eating smelly foods – make sure to follow these rules yourself and you’ll be on your way to creating a pleasant atmosphere in the office.

2. Background noise

Even if your colleagues are understanding and try to keep their voices down, you might find yourself distracted by ambient noises. This is something that bothers many open-plan office workers, as one study found out.

The best way to deal with this problem is by wearing noise-cancelling headphones or ear buds. A pair of colourful headphones on your head will also send a signal to others – you’re busy and shouldn’t be distracted.

It’s a good idea to play a tune – classical music, electronic white noise or nature ambient noises, which were recently found out to improve cognitive functioning, optimize workers’ ability to concentrate and increase their overall satisfaction. You can try Coffitivity or Raining.fm.

3. Find your rhythm

If you find open-plan office environment simply unbearable, you can play with your schedule so you find a way to manage this challenge. You can show up an hour before your colleagues start pouring in, or have an early lunch and use your lunch break to work in your deserted office.

Another smart strategy is to benefit from conference rooms. Managers are usually aware that workers might need moments away from their colleagues and won’t hesitate to grant you access to this refuge area. Just make sure to follow the rules of its use.

4. Be positive and leverage this situation

Running to your boss with a heap of complaints won’t set you in a good light. Just because you’re having a problem doesn’t mean managers will redesign the whole office space to make your life easier. Try to solve this challenge on your own and be ready to compromise.

Finally, see the positive side of the situation and make the most from working in an open-plan office. You’ll have a chance to see how a successful colleague operates on a daily basis, gain an insight into what’s going on in the company and approach people in your team when they have time to talk.

Shared offices are something you should definitely prepare for because the style is simply trendy. Just a couple of months ago, the entire Facebook team moved into their brand new campus designed by Frank Gehry – the largest open-plan office in the world!

By highlighting positive aspects of working in a shared office and effectively dealing with daily annoyances, you’ll be on your way to making this office model work for your needs and preferences.


Kelly Smith is Content Manager at CourseFinder.com.au, a resource on Australian online courses. She is especially interested in self-improvement and productivity hacks.

Photo by Twang Photography

  • Kevin says:

    Thank you for this post! As an undergraduate myself, there’s an amazing fascination with startup culture because it’s seen as so much more free and liberating. This post really deconstructed some of those assumptions for me- that you can take any position on the first three reasons on mentioned, and use them all as a point of personal growth and a way to begin standing out in the workplace!

    • Yes, there can be a fine line between collaborative and just awful depending on the design of the office. You want the collaboration, but you need to get work done as well…thanks for the comment, Kevin.

  • >