You can find a lot of solid advice for surviving the open office.
The historical arc of offices is richly told. Despite the criticism they get, I’m fond of them, over many offices or more established cubicles. Someone recently asked me for advice, and I found I had three quick answers that I stand by.
These are elements that I think are richly observed at my company, making our open office plan fairly successful.
- Your headphones are your office. When we first moved into our office, we bought fairly nice headphones for everyone on the staff. The message was that we can use music (or other sound) to keep focus. This works really well for me. Our office remains fairly quiet, even with people in it, but when there are (welcome) breaks of silence for brief exchanges, I can either participate or turn up the volume. My headphones are just like my office door, but it makes it easier to engage when I do want to.
- Don’t talk, walk. We purposefully located our private office on the same floor as a coworking space that we are members of. That means there’s a lot of flex space. We start internal communication passively — Slack can allow teammates to choose when they’re ready to talk. When unlanned IRL time is called for, don’t do it in the office if it’s going to be anything more than a very brief exchange. Get up and walk. (I’m a big fan of waking meetings just for that reason).
- Keep your clutter in a drawer. I deserve criticism for not always following through with this but I do semi-regular cleanouts of the business cards that pile up on my desk. The point here is that everything is essentially a shared space.
With even just these practical approaches, alongside the obvious rule of respecting those around you, I’ve found open offices can work wonderfully.