Modern open office
How to Focus When Working in an Open Office

February 20, 2018

Ask Bindertek:

My workplace is switching to open offices and I’ve heard horror stories about how difficult it is to work in such an arrangement. Do you have any tips on how to focus despite the open environment?

According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report, approximately 70% of American workers are housed in open office plans. While executives and managers look to open offices to encourage collaboration and brainstorming, a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that open offices frequently frustrated workers and sapped them of energy. Until the working landscape changes, you’re likely to wind up in an open office sooner or later. Try out our top three suggestions to keep your focus and avoid frustration.

Turn down the noise

Open offices are notorious for being loud and distracting, as you’re forced to listen to the phone calls and conversations of others. Don a pair of headphones (noise canceling or regular) as your first line of defense. If you listen to music, select ambient or white noise tracks rather than your favorite songs with lyrics, which are more likely to catch your attention. Just like a massage therapist or a spa plays soothing yet nondescript music, you need a background track to your day.

Do not disturb

Avoid constant interruptions from coworkers who have “just a quick question” by making yourself temporarily unavailable. Hang a Do Not Disturb sign nearby, put up an away message on Slack, or make it otherwise known to your colleagues that you need undisturbed time to focus on your current workload. Taking repeated breaks to help others with their questions increases your cognitive load and reduces your productivity. Instead, request that coworkers batch their communications and present multiple questions at one agreed-upon time.

Take breaks

In addition to taking regular breaks for the sake of productivity, excuse yourself from the office when possible to get some breathing room. Take your lunch outside of the office, run errands on your break, or ask if you can work from home on occasion. Think outside of the usual solutions and book a conference room for intense focus work sessions. You’ll avoid getting irritated with your coworkers if you can gain some space, and the change in scenery might spark new energy.

The onslaught of audible and visual noise in an open office environment can be difficult to deal with. Attack your biggest pain points first to see the most improvement in your productivity and focus as you adjust to your new floor plan.