How to Survive an Open Office If You’re an Introvert

Big, open spaces crammed full of bodies with nothing to break up the sound of a workday frenzy: sounds great, right? While open offices seemed like a way to promote collaboration (and save money by putting more employees per square foot), the trend does have its drawbacks, especially if you’re a bit more turtle than tiger at work. Here’s how to cope when your privacy at work goes bye-bye.


(Photo Credit: jaygooby/Flickr)

1. (Head)phone it in

All of us, even the extroverts, can appreciate the fact that a noisy office isn’t great for concentration. When you’re in a cavernous business factory, one way to carve out your head space is to protect your ears. Get some great noise-canceling headphones and you’ll have a good excuse to rock some quiet tunes at work with style. Unsure of what to get? Check out PC Mag or CNET’s picks for 2015. One sneaky tip: if you have trouble concentrating even with the latest This American Life podcast on, just put on your headphones without any tunes. They’ll still help to block out the world.

2. Raise your privacy flag high

Instead of being the office shusher (which really doesn’t work, anyway), try putting out some visual cues that you’re not to be disturbed. Those headphones we mentioned earlier are a great start, but to be even more obvious, try adding some visuals to your work space. Since you likely lack cube walls in an open office, try adding some flair to your desk that shows you’re not to be disturbed. If you have a traditional cube with low walls, you can change the position of your computer so your back is to the “open” part of the cube. To keep someone from tapping you on the shoulder, a creative sign on the back of your chair could tell them “Come back later, please” or “Don’t bother me, I’m making money.” Have more room to spare? Try a stop sign for your area to stop them in their tracks when they try to bother you.

3. Take a break (or three)

It’s a great time to take a break, don’t you think? Make sure you’re getting your steps in and go for a walk, even if it’s just around the office park or out to your car and back. Is the weather bad for a trip outside? Try the stairwells or make laps around your cavernous office space. It goes without saying that you should also make sure to take lunch away from the noise if at all possible. This may mean a trip to a lunch spot or just a park where you can eat in relative peace. Don’t let the noise of your busy office space be the only environment you sit in all day. Breaks help you stay rested and recharged.

4. Seek out private spaces

If you can’t get your own office with a door that shuts out the world, make a private work zone for yourself, for at least part of the day. One sneaky way is to book a meeting room all for yourself. If you have a more progressive office, you might find small work pods or other nooks and crannies you can escape to when you really need to concentrate. Even just getting out of sight of the noisy monkeys you work with can be a real help when it comes to concentration. If you can’t find a space in the office, try to work offsite when you need more privacy. Working from home a few days a week, or when projects dictate, can be a real help when distractions are high at the office. Or try to arrange a flex schedule where you can work early or late, and find some time for those complicated tasks when fewer people are around.

If you need more inspiration on keeping your work place a distraction-free zone, check out the immortal words of John Hiatt: “Don’t bug me when I’m working, / I’m working, I’m working / Don’t bug me when I’m working, / Got a job to do.”

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