Open-plan offices are meant to boost teamwork. But their many distractions and lack of privacy can be stressful. We share how to make it work for you. 

 Master the open plan office

1. Create Private Space
Forget about having a discreet phone conversation or reading personal e-mail at your desk. Your business becomes everybody’s business when your workspace is exposed.

Do this: You can set up a row of high filing drawers, or a small bookshelf on your desk for privacy.

But Stuart Tan, an organisational psychologist and managing director of Ultimate Alliance Consultancy in Singapore, also says it’s important to distinguish personal time from office time.

“You wouldn’t change your clothes in public, so why do personal things out in the open?” he asks. “At work, expect to be seen, and function professionally.”


2. Control The Spillover
From books to photo frames and unopened mail, the mess on your neighbour’s desk is spilling over onto yours – and you barely have enough space for your stuff.

Do this: Your neighbour may not realise you have a problem with her mess.

Julia Ng, a professional certified coach from Executive Coach International in Singapore, suggests approaching it tactfully with a joke, like: “Our desks are like night and day. You have so much stuff!”

Alternatively, “block” off your space from hers with a row of filing boxes or stationery containers, says Julia, who is also a design consultant.


3. Improve Your Concentration
Distractions are everywhere – from pinging e-mail messages to colleagues chatting over low desk partitions. With no visual or acoustic boundaries, it’s difficult to focus on work.

Do this:
If every bit of noise distracts you, Stuart recommends this exercise:

    1. Relax your eyes and stabilise your breathing before starting on a task.
    2. Picture yourself completing the task.
    3. Then work on it, but every 30 minutes, pull away, sit up straight, and relax your entire body, including your eyes.
    4. Do this about seven times, and you’ll enter what’s called an Alpha brainwave state or “relaxed concentration”, says Stuart.

      This state of mind keeps you balanced without being stressed, so it improves your concentration – and performance.


        4. Get Used To Being Watched
        You feel uneasy because you can be seen from every part of the office. Can the boss see if you’re on Facebook? Will your supervisor sneak up on you from behind?

        Do this:
        A small stand-up mirror on your desk can help you see who’s approaching. But Julia says that if you really don’t want to worry about who may be looking over your shoulder, leave your personal tasks for lunch time.

        “If you work in an open-plan office, you have to accept that there will always be people hovering about,” she says.


        This article was originally published in SimplyHer February 2013.