Open Office Space Etiquette: Do's and Don'ts

Many will contend working in an open office area brings out the worst in coworkers due to hourly distractions and lack of privacy. One client went so far as to say they can see, hear and smell everything their neighbor is eating, drinking and saying throughout the work day. Then, there are those who prefer an open design because it ignites their creative juices, encouraging a collaborative culture. Whatever side you sit on, open office design is here to stay. If you find yourself working in a setting with plastic palm trees blowing from the ceiling fan and people directly across from you so close you can hold hands, here are a few tips to make the most of your day.

Do look at your office with a "glass half full" attitude. First and foremost, you said "yes" to the job. There are always drawbacks in any work environment, and changing your outlook by compiling a list of the benefits your present situation offers may help you hone in on the good versus the bad.

Don't assume your coworker wants to brainstorm. A closed door is a clear sign not to disturb, but when your surroundings are wide open, it can be more challenging to read between the lines. Use your good judgment before taking a seat on someone else's sliver of a desk. If you notice their gaze stays intensely focused on their computer, you may want to come back later, or ask when a better time to discuss a new project may be.

Do make the most of the entire space. Having the freedom to move about can break up an otherwise ordinary day. For example, if there is a comfy place to sit and work through your list of tasks, by all means, bring your laptop and settle in! Take advantage of the creative setup by going outdoors to answer emails or grab a cup of coffee at the in-house coffee shop to discuss an upcoming event.

Don't allow the noise level to become a distraction. If you are sensitive to noise and find it unsettling, employ your ear buds or headset to stream your favorite music. Though you are still in a shared space, music will offer a quiet retreat. It is best to get the "okay" from your supervisor before plugging in. While you may think using your ear buds in the office is harmless, company policy may say otherwise.

Do make use of small conference rooms for confidential conversations. If a sensitive topic comes up that is not meant to be shared with the entire staff, use discretion, suggesting the discussion happen in a room or an office with a door.

Don't allow your smartphone to become an office-wide distraction. What would otherwise be a discreet notification, such as a "ping" when a new text or tweet arrives, becomes a nuisance to all of your neighbors in an open office area. Adjust your phone alerts accordingly in order to avoid annoying those working around you.

Do establish office standards for interaction in a variety of scenarios. Since the personalities of your employees will most likely fall on different ends of the spectrum (highly introverted - highly extroverted), it is a good idea as a supervisor to set company standards for how best to navigate the open space arrangement.

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