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Open plan office

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  • Open plan office

    I am having trouble coping with the noise in our open plan office, which we moved into a year ago and is noisier than the previous one.
    It's also very distracting having people interrupt you to ask a question.
    Last week I had a cold and so worked 3 days from home, plus a sick day, with only one day in the office. The quiet at home was far more productive, I got some movement on some project work that had been delayed for a long time.
    How do I cope?
    Do I setup a special context for quiet computer work and try and do some work at home?

  • #2
    How would your office feel about you wearing headphones? When I am trying to concentrate I will often play certain music tracks which get me into the mode of working and cut out the distraction of other noise around me. If possible, wearing the headphones could also be a sign to those in the office that you are "in the zone" and would prefer not to be disturbed!


    • #3
      They'd be fine with it, and I have used this in the past, although yesterday I didn't have any on me. The stress got so bad I just left to go home early. It wasn't just the workplace, it was being late on two deadlines that also had me upset. But I find people will still interrupt you with headphones, and I can still hear the background noise, and still be distracted by people moving around. So it's a improvement but not a fix.


      • #4
        I work at a nuclear power plant. As one would hope and expect, there are times when one has to perform a task that requires uninterrupted concentration. An interruption can provide a "human-performance error trap." A formal (and actually proceduralized) "human-performance tool" is to use a "do not disturb" sign.

        You simply make up a sign (8.5-inch by 11-inch, monochrome, laser-printed sheet of paper is fine) with the words "do not disturb" and your supervisor's name and phone number. You then hang it up on a string (rope, plastic chain, rubber band) across your cubicle entry (or put it on the outside of your closed door, if you are fortunate enough to have one). Anyone who wants to disturb you is "expected" to see your supervisor first in order to obtain permission to interrupt you during the performance of your task. (And woe to anyone at a nuclear power plant who deviates from "expectations"!)

        Of course, another potential error trap is "assumptions," and I have just assumed that your firm's culture supports the concept of workers' respecting each other's requests and need to not be interrupted while performing some activity.

        That would be the means to keep the people out of your space. To address ambient office noise, some of my colleagues wear ordinary hearing-protection devices (i.e., earmuffs or ear plugs) to reduce the noise level. As has already been mentioned, ear-buds or headphones with music or white-noise can also be used.

        I hope this helps.



        • #5
          That's a cool idea, and great if the culture supports it. We don't even have cubicles, and the new building seems to reverberate noise, so if the room is filled with people, even if they are not talking directly to me, it is quite loud. It is a common problem, and some people book out meeting rooms to work on stuff in isolation. Although given the meeting rooms have glass walls, you do feel self conscious.


          • #6
            My headphones do not reduce ambient noise enough, and sometimes I want complete silence, not just music, so I use these:

            When everyone around me is talking, I can just barely make out that there are voices, but the sound is so faint that it doesn't disturb me.



            • #7
              One word of caution with the sign....I always tell the folks on my team that you train people how to work with you so if you put up a sign but you're chatting with other folks while your DND sign is up, people will see this as OK to chat with you when that sign is up. We don't have signs but our internal chat system has an "in a meeting status". I advise my team to put themselves in this status when they are in meetings but caution them not to interact with folks while they are in that status because you're telling people that you don't even respect your own sign so it's OK for them to ignore it too.

              Hope this helps.


              • #8
                Originally posted by maclaren View Post
                My headphones do not reduce ambient noise enough, and sometimes I want complete silence, not just music, so I use these:

                When everyone around me is talking, I can just barely make out that there are voices, but the sound is so faint that it doesn't disturb me.

                I have a pair that looks exactly like that, plus some others that are similar. I keep one at work and use it occasionally. Earplugs are less effective but cheap and small -- no reason not to use them at least, to reduce the noise somewhat.

                Years ago I used to sometimes put a sign on my office door for an hour at a time so I could concentrate. If people did knock on my door I tried to quickly tell them I'd talk to them later.

                Suelin, if you explain that the reason you want to work at home is that you get a lot more done there, maybe you could arrange to work at home several days every week. It's also good to have some interaction with co-workers, too, I guess, so one or two days at the office per week might be good. It might be good to start with one day a week at home for a while and then let your supervisor know how much more you're getting done, to convince them to let you have more days a week at home.

                Or maybe you could start your day much earlier or later than most people, to be at the office during quieter times. Maybe taking lunch break at a different time might let it be a little quieter.

                Rather than just "do not disturb", you could put up a sign stating the time you'll be available, and/or suggesting that people send you an email or voice mail. (You could refrain from answering you phone during this time, and let voice mail accumulate.)

                I'm unsure whether putting interruptions off until later helps all that much. You still have to eventually attend to whatever it is. Maybe you can do it faster if it's an email rather than a polite chat.