“I feel like I’m being not only demoted, but punished. Every day I walk in and think, I must be being punished for something.”
While so many companies are moving to completely open floor plans, there’s bound to be some discontent, especially among those who previously held offices. I recently experienced this drastic change at my company, the result being that our CEO sits in a cubicle the exact same size as mine. Seriously. Prior to the move, people were undeniably antsy. On the first day in the new office, everyone looked positively shell-shocked.
About a month into life in an open floor plan, the reviews are mixed. Privacy is the biggest factor, especially for managers and executives. On the one hand, there are people who feel that the lack of privacy is a demotion: “I feel like my employees are being punished by having to sit right next to me. You don’t want your boss to be right on top of you all the time.” Some people have told me they feel more isolated, because you don’t want to walk around and talk to people for fear of disrupting those around them. Others who hated it at first have come around: “It’s not that bad. I kind of like it, I feel like my team needs to be collaborating, so this works.”
Over the past month I’ve witnessed all of the above reactions, and gathered some of the best advice for dealing with this massive change.
1. Book your conference rooms ASAP.
My boss made a point of booking every weekly meeting she needed a room for as soon as the company opened up the schedule. This was major. She has the most convenient conference room booked for everything she needs, and is never stressed about nabbing some privacy.
2. Don’t just call out to people.
This one is tough for me, especially when I’m literally staring directly at the person I need to ask a question to. Why can’t I just be like, “Hey Jill! How do you change this title image?” Because for people trying to retain a modicum of privacy or a certain type of workflow, it’s not fair to be interrupting them constantly. Sometimes, sure. But don’t stop using email altogether just because someone is now sitting right next to you.
3. Don’t be afraid to visit a colleague.
This may seem to contradict the last piece of advice, so let me explain. Don’t get into a habit of poking people whenever you need something, but if you start walking on eggshells too much, you’ll find yourself feeling pretty darn isolated. Open floor plans are supposed to make people feel more like a team, right? So don’t be afraid to go visit a colleague in another department and speak with them. Just do it quietly.
4. Don’t say hello to people every time you pass them.
Yes, I see you, too. Now leave me alone and let me get back to work.
5. Think about headphones.
Especially if you sit in a high-traffic aisle, you may want to think about headphones to combat the chit-chat every time someone you know walks by your desk to use the bathroom. Even if you don’t actually want to listen to music, headphones are the open-floor-plan office version of a “Do Not Disturb” sign.
6. Take measures to get some alone time.
Especially if you previously held an office, there’s no way around the fact that this is going to be a major, uncomfortable adjustment. Don’t just try to brush off feelings of being cramped or claustrophobic. Figure out what you need to do to keep yourself calm, focused, and productive. Maybe that’s working in an open conference room for an hour a day. Maybe that’s taking a couple of 10-minute walks outside throughout the work day. Take those measures to ease the transition as much as you can.
7. Make the best of it.
At the end of the day (unless you truly cannot cope and decide to leave the company), this is your life now: It’s better to get used to it than continue to long for the past. Take the opportunity to become closer to your employees and colleagues. Decorate your cube in an interesting way. Make friends with passersby based on the fact that now everyone can see you dancing to Taylor Swift at your desk. Okay, that one might just be me.