Working in Open and Partitioned Workplaces and Offices
Many offices and workspaces these days tend to be ‘open plan’ in nature which within them, might also include teams working in cubicles or ‘pods’ as they are sometimes referred to. And, whilst for the most part, groups of workers have taken this for granted and are able to get along just fine, it’s important to remember that there needs to be certain rules of etiquette and consideration and respect shown towards others in order to make this arrangement function efficiently. And, whilst some people from the ‘old school’ might point to the fact that they preferred to work behind closed doors years ago, many people who work in open plan offices will often point to the fact that the close proximity to work colleagues can often provide a social aspect to their work in addition to the job itself. Nevertheless, here are some guidelines as to the issues you should consider if you want your open plan office or workspace to be as productive and as harmonious as possible.
Show ConsiderationShowing consideration to colleagues in an open plan office will only work if you all adopt a mutual respect for each other. Allow yourself to be accessible to others but adopt clearly understood signals for when you’re busy and don’t wish to be disturbed. Keep your desk tidy. This is especially important if you are sharing an open plan desk and show courtesy when using any shared spaces. Be careful when having conversations. Don’t speak too loudly in shared workspaces as you may be interrupting another fellow worker from getting on with their work and never shout to a colleague who’s at a workstation several feet away to attract their attention. Even within open plan workspaces, there will be designated aisles or walking routes to use. Use them and don’t be tempted to take short cuts across other people’s ‘patches’.
Never use anything which might cause disruption to others, e.g. a speaker phone or radio unless you’ve got express permission from fellow work colleagues that this is acceptable. You should always be wary of speaking openly about any issues of confidentiality. Perhaps, you are a team leader/supervisor who works on the same ‘pod’ as your team. If so, and you’re speaking on the phone about a certain issue that your team should not have any knowledge of, make sure you move to a more private enclosed space to make or take the call. If you tend to have to field a lot of calls as part of your job, always switch your answer machine on before leaving your desk. If a colleague has to take a call on your behalf, it just means more work for them. Also, if a colleague is on the phone themselves, don’t interrupt them during the call but wait until they’re off the phone.
SmellsPungent or bad odours are one of the most complained about aspects of working in an open plan office. Therefore, make sure you practice good hygiene but don’t make the mistake of going overboard on the aftershave or perfume. What you might think is the best cologne or eau de toilette ever produced might make another person retch and overpowering perfumes can have an even more negative effect, first thing in the morning. Likewise with food – if there is an established policy of being able to eat at your desk, be careful that you choose relatively neutral smelling foods i.e. no curries, onions or garlic.
Tact and DiplomacyShould you accidentally overhear a conversation that you know was intended to remain private between the people having the conversation, simply forget about its contents. Don’t make the mistake of falling into the trap of telling other people what you overheard later as you’ll simply garnish a reputation for being the office gossip. Likewise, should some of your colleagues be holding an informal meeting, don’t just waltz up and join in. Ask yourself if you really need to be there, if you haven’t been invited.
In general, it’s quite easy to get along well in an open plan working environment. What you should always be thinking about is being accessible to people wherever possible but still maintaining boundaries whenever you need to focus on work, showing consideration to others and by being tidy and courteous. Remembering that not everybody will share exactly the same values as you is also important but in general, to adopt a policy of treating people how you’d like to be treated yourself is usually a good benchmark to ensuring a harmonious workspace.