How To Be Productive In An Open Concept Office Space

Spoiler alert: Work Hive is an open concept office space. Most coworking spaces are for many reasons, not the least of which is the cost-and-space-efficiency. We love working in a large, open office, but developing skills to be productive in an office like ours is important.

Open concept offices have become trendy in the past decade because of the opportunities they present for collaboration and fluidity among teams and departments. This is significant because the antiquated model of sales-team-on-one-floor-and-marketing-team-on-another segregates departments such that cliques form and cross-departmental communication can easily become strained.

In spite of this freedom from physical boundaries in the office, there is a wide debate about the pros and cons of working in an open concept office.

In an article written by a self-proclaimed “Stage 5 introvert” who works at Evernote, the note-taking, organization, and productivity platform, ways that the benefits of open offices can be equally disruptive to one’s productivity are addressed.

Benefits include:

  1. access to others around you for collaboration
  2. easy interpersonal interaction
  3. access to feedback or groupthink opportunities on new ideas
  4. promotion of whole company equality with all departments in one large space

The associated drawbacks, however, include

  1. collaboration is not effective all the time – time must be spent independently to accomplish the tasks.
  2. unexpected disruptions / attempts for collaboration can occur at any time of the workday
  3. similar to #2, someone could ask for your advice or feedback on something at any time and wreck your flow
  4. everyone can see what others are working on or if they came to work that day (yes, this can promote accountability but is also eliminates privacy.

The article states “When you’re out in the open, you’re somewhat of a sitting duck. Some people assume that you’re free for a chat because they can see you.” This dramatically affects productivity because people are able to so easily see who is around and what they are doing and so become more easily tempted to get up and go say hi for a “break”.

The article furthermore mentions how different kinds of noise affect productivity. Open concept offices  guarantee the basic noise of

  • teammates’ conversations about work
  • people walking around the office
  • any kind of work-related phone call
  • the hopefully occasional personal phone call

Research has shown that humans are most productive with a low level of inaudible sound that does not relate to their work (such as the buzz of strangers in a coffee shop, but the article still recommends wearing headphones (but maybe listen to ambient noise instead of music – more on that in a future post) and employing more tact when trying to connect with someone else in the space, such as “waiting until you have multiple questions, try catching them in the hallway, or just send an email if they look deep in thought” or if the conversation requires a scheduled time and meeting place.