Open Space Office? Survival Tips for Introverts

When Jennifer’s company converted to open space last year, her ability to concentrate plunged. She likes her tablemates; it’s just that Jennifer needs quiet and solitude to do her best thinking. Without an office door to close, she’s stressed, overwhelmed, and seriously thinking of moving on.

Open Space Office or Free For All?

In the past 20 years, open space offices became the hot trend. Supporters claim that they increase collaboration, break down barriers between employees, and cost less than individual offices. Detractors say that the open space is too noisy, decreases employee satisfaction, and can even increase absenteeism by allowing the office cold virus to spread unchecked. If you’re an introvert, they can be doubly difficult.

Working from home depends on company policy and your home situation. Do it too much and you sacrifice the positives of being in the office. What can you do?

Learn the office ebb and flow

Have you experienced that moment in a restaurant or party when everything goes quiet? Or those times in the coffee shop when everyone suddenly starts speaking loudly? It happens in offices too. Listen for a few days and notice times of day that naturally become more or less noisy in your workplace. Book time with yourself to concentrate during the naturally quiet times. Schedule meetings during the louder ones.

Take a bubble break

Most open space offices incorporate small, sound-insulated rooms that let employees get away from the noise. Called glass boxes, pods, phone booths, or bubbles, the best ones have curtains or solid walls, noise insulation, and best of all, a door that closes. Use them when you need to focus, or just need some peace and quiet.

I call it a bubble break: 15 minutes of solitude that lets me refocus, escape interruptions and recharge. If you’re using pod retreats to relieve stress or soothe your inner introvert, try a 5-minute stress-relieving meditation. The Insight Timer app provides a selection of guided meditations for stress, anxiety, or focus. No pods in your office? Take strategic restroom breaks instead!

Block out noise

Noise cancelling headphones or earplugs can be life-savers in open spaces. Get some that fit comfortably and wear them. When you put them on, tell your tablemates if it’s OK to interrupt you. It may feel a bit strange at first; stick with it, you will get used to it and so will your colleagues. You might even start a trend!

You might not get to choose whether to work in an office space, but you can choose how you work in it. If it’s not your natural habitat, take heart. A few simple steps can put you back in control.



Marne Platt

Dr. Marne Platt is the President of Fundamental Capabilities and the author of 3 books (so far): Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way; Professional Presence; and PREP For Success. Originally a practicing veterinarian, she built a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. She founded Fundamental Capabilities to ‘pay it forward’ by providing career development workshops and coaching for women. ‘Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way’ is an ‘older sister in your pocket’ packed full of advice for young women on building their own independent and exciting life. 'Professional Presence' and PREP For Success' help you strengthen your spoken and unspoken communication and leadership presence.