Tips for Surviving the Open Office Space

March 28, 2017


Open office spaces, lacking walls and cubicles, are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, a study by the International Facility Management Association found that approximately 70 percent of companies have an open seating plan. But for some workers, open office spaces can be difficult to navigate.

For some, concentrating and staying on task can prove to be difficult without walls to block distractions. Those distractions can include coworkers’ phone calls, loud meetings, or office gossip sessions. Here are a few tips employees can use to navigating an open office space and avoid actions that might rub coworkers the wrong way.

Spend some alone time

Some employees may feel obligated to socialize with coworkers during a break. But do not discount the benefits of going for a walk or listening to music alone. With all the distractions of working in an open space, stress can build and that uneasiness can snowball with little to no warning. Be sure to take some time to decompress and get a clear head before tackling the rest of the workday.

Use conference rooms

Conference rooms are not just for group meetings. Employees should feel at ease reserving a meeting room for themselves when their work requires privacy and silence. Workers should also be mindful of this option when discussing confidential issues. Voices in open office spaces can carry and echo, so be aware of the nature of sensitive conversations while working in this kind of environment and use a conference room if necessary. Employees who need to make multiple calls should also consider using a conference room to avoid causing distraction.

Noise-canceling headphones

Wearing standard headphones or noise-canceling headphones at work continues to become more and more popular. Although some supervisors might not agree with the practice, headphones can increase employee focus and productivity by decreasing distractions. They can also aid employees in sending a subtle, do not disturb message to coworkers. However, workers should be mindful of their headphones usage. Wearing them too often can make a person seem unapproachable. It's also worth mentioning that employees may face safety concerns if they can't hear fire alarms and other emergency warnings.

Decorate with privacy in mind

Shifting a file cabinet or bringing in a freestanding bookshelf can give uncomfortable coworkers a semi-curtained sense of privacy and reduce distractions. Just remember to ensure nearby employees don't feel shut out.

Encourage communication and respect

With an open office layout, employees should take steps to get to know the coworkers with whom they will share space. For instance, some employees prefer quiet time at the start of the day to set schedules or answer emails. Giving these coworkers space and avoiding morning small talk can go a long way.

The lunch hour can also become a source of tension as office-mates may be bothered by certain smells or sounds during that time. Supervisors can encourage employees to take advantage of the lunchroom whenever possible (instead of eating at their desks) to avoid this issue.

Although everyone has their own preferences concerning office noise and privacy, the overall objective in every open office should be to increase teamwork and communication while reducing distractions and tensions. Although workers have a limited amount of control over their work environment, there are creative ways to adjust a workspace to fit critical needs while respecting the wishes of others. Focus on the small things instead of concentrating on what can’t be changed. With a little effort, an open office space can work for employees with varying work styles.

Topics: Human Resources

Kay Oder


Kay Oder has owned six companies, has been a resource to thousands to businesses and brought solutions to help business owners minimize risk, improve business performance and navigate today’s highly regulated and complex “business of being an employer”.

Today, Kay uses the insights gained throughout her career as a speaker, business owner and business advisor. Audiences enjoy her candid, informed perspective on HR related topics as well as her razor-sharp southern wit.

Kay is also a Certified Business Performance Advisor with Insperity, the $2.6 billion business performance solutions provider she has called home since 1993. Kay has consistently been among the company’s top producers during her 20 plus years with the organization, earning Insperity’s highest honors, including the Top Volume, Circle of Excellence and the Chairman’s Club awards.

Prior to Insperity, Kay was the President and Co-founder of Texas Valve Specialists, a supplier in the oil and gas industry. She has also owned companies in the construction, demolition, machining and promotional apparel arenas. She spent four years as a client of Insperity and upon selling her last venture, joined the Insperity team.

From an early age Kay demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit, beginning at age six when she sold cantaloupes from her parents’ front yard, which she offered three for fifty-cents, with a free puppy.

Kay and her husband, Dale, relocated to Austin from the Houston area in 1996 when a theft occurred in their family: their granddaughter was born and stole their hearts, so they had to follow.

Insperity, a trusted advisor to America’s best businesses for more than 30 years, provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance. Insperity® Business Performance Advisors offer the most comprehensive suite of products and services available in the marketplace. Insperity delivers administrative relief, better benefits, reduced liabilities and a systematic way to improve productivity through its premier Workforce Optimization® solution. Additional company offerings include Human Capital Management, Payroll Services, Time and Attendance, Performance Management, Organizational Planning, Recruiting Services, Employment Screening, Financial Services, Expense Management, Retirement Services and Insurance Services. Insperity business performance solutions support more than 100,000 businesses with over 2 million employees. With 2016 revenues of $2.9 billion, Insperity operates in 61 offices throughout the United States. For more information, call 800-465-3800 or visit

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