6 Ways To Navigate an Open Office As An Introvert

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If you’re an introvert, operating in an open office is probably more exhausting than the work itself. While open offices have valid reasons for redesigning the workspace, such as reducing the real estate footprint and facilitating collaboration, many introverts wonder what kind of sadist concocted the layout, gleefully corralling his employees into a single room so he could torture them with the three same mixtapes he made for that rodeo once in high school.

When I first walked into my current work environment, I was warily excited — this was a completely new atmosphere for me after all, and I thought it would be a good to experience the new, trendy “big cool tech company” vibe being pitched to me. However, a year later I’ve come to realize the physiological impacts of our office surroundings that many of my coworkers don’t quite understand, and so I rolled up my sleeves and sought to solve these problems on my own.

Since there was no way I could drop in on a weekend with a haul from Home Depot and build myself a tidy little enclosure, I managed to work out a few ways to not only cope, but even enjoy my work in this new, wild environment.

1. Devise a way to show that you’re busy.

You don’t need a giant stoplight hanging off the side of your desk to let your employees know that you’re unavailable for socializing. Simple things like wearing headphones (if your office allows them), or even a small sign resting at the top of your computer monitor reading “Busy Right Now.” The headphones are typically the better option, since they also serve as a way to block out the inevitable noise of a crowd of people fenced into a concrete cage together. Research suggests that background noise distracts introverts many times more than extroverts, and reducing that noise is essential to productivity.

2. Take time to recharge alone.

Perhaps the most obvious, but easily overlooked tip. Short breaks throughout the day can help you handle the snowballing effect of stress that can come with the pressure to socialize with coworkers. I made it a habit to take two short walks outside the office twice a day to get away from the noise, but perhaps even taking a few minutes to lie down in your car or read a book a few times a week can relieve that pressure.

3. Note the quiet times in the office.

An open office means being available to your colleagues at nearly all times of the day. After a couple of weeks however, you’ll likely notice a pattern of activity that you can take advantage of. Note these times to schedule your more difficult tasks to take advantage of the extra breathing room.

4. Find a way to make your desk more private.

There is little to no privacy in an open office. A 2013 study reported that many workers within open offices were frustrated by distractions and the poor performance that resulted. Nearly half of those surveyed noted the lack of sound privacy was a serious problem, and more than 30% objected to the lack of visual privacy.

Consider asking to have your desk moved to a wall, or perhaps insulate your space with plants or other barriers.

5. Book a conference room to work alone.

If there are meeting rooms not being used, why not book one for a ‘meeting with yourself’ to take advantage of the quiet space it provides. If you have a particularly intensive task at hand, or when the open space environment becomes too much to handle, this option can be a valuable fix. Even relocating to the smaller rooms for more semi-private collaboration with a colleague can be much less taxing, and allow you to communicate in a way that is more conducive to your style and get work done without unpleasant interruptions.

6. Get support from your boss.

Yeah, I know, trying to explain to your boss that you need quiet and calm to do your best work feels like you’re admitting that you’re not meeting expectations. More often than not however, your boss is on your side.

If you have to, present your boss with the facts. In one study of 42,000 workers in 303 office buildings, all types of employees noted that enclosed private offices are superior to open-plan layouts “particularly in acoustics, privacy, and proxemics issues.”

Bottom line: you don’t have to be aggressive or stage any sort of protest to overcome the stress that comes with the open-office. You can carve out your own pockets of time or space to breath and perhaps even enjoy your work again.


Jeffrey Lin is a writer, game developer, and technology enthusiast. He can typically be found tweeting about love, Star Wars, and terrible puns.


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