7 Survival Tips for Introverts Working in an Open Office
I’ve been working in an open office since I began my career writing for various ad agencies. As an introvert, I can tell you this: it wasn’t a total nightmare. Shocking, isn’t it? I could tell you all the horrors of working in an open office, but that would be a slight exaggeration.
Ideally, I would love it if I wasn’t compelled to overhear my colleagues talking about what they had for dinner or listen to their playlist blaring, but it isn’t so terrible. At least I’m not forced to talk to people all the time as everyone is minding their own priorities. So despite backlashes against the open-office trend and being an introvert, it’s possible for quiet people to find their place in an open office. Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful.
1. Block off your time to let people know you’re busy.
It’s essentially putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your desk, except a little subtler. Blocking off time enables you to take ownership of your schedule, and allows you to focus and get work done. I remember how overwhelming things had been when I started my first job: I was bombarded with interruptions and requests, whether it’s in person or via email. But, eventually, I was able to limit these distractions by blocking off time in my schedule to let everyone know I’m busy.
In this digital age, many companies have embraced online collaboration platforms, such as G Suite, where you can share your calendar and spreadsheets with the rest of the team. This makes it easy to let everyone know what’s on your plate, before they make any requests.
2. Leave the office.
Not permanently, of course (unless you intend to quit your job, which is another story). Regardless, it’s nice to have a change of scenery. Consider taking short breaks and going for a nice walk outside. I find this especially helpful as a creative person because it helps me relax and find inspiration. And if possible, try getting some work done at a nearby café. The perks of working in a café are that it doesn’t feel like an office. In fact, doing so could help you with your most creative projects. Maybe it’ll even inspire you to ditch your day job to write your next novel.
3. Find quiet spaces and book meeting rooms to yourself.
In the battlefield of loud noises and open spaces, you may need to seek some shelter. Instead of sitting at your desk, see if you can find some other areas to work that would give you more privacy and quiet time, such as meeting rooms and lounge areas. If I were to submit an entry for The Book of Awesome, my awesome moment would probably be “having the meeting room to yourself.”
4. Assemble some furniture for more privacy.
You may not have a say in your office floor layout, but consider making a case to your boss or HR on adding some new furniture to give you more privacy. Let them know that open spaces can reduce productivity, in which small distractions can cause us to lose focus for upwards of 20 minutes. I found working in an office meant having to succumb to the typical ergonomic office chair, working in close proximity to others around you. This means no sense of personal space, no intimacy with yourself — something crucial for an introvert like me to be and stay productive during the 9-5. In offices I’ve worked in, I found chairs with a high back that act as an enclosure, such as this River chair, could give you additional privacy. You could also suggest adding some panels around your desk to give you some divide.
5. Wear headphones and listen to music.
A simple way to block off the noise is to wear headphones. Consider grabbing those large headphones with extra cushioning to block off some noise. You could also listen to your favorite playlist while you’re at it if it helps you relax and stay productive. Personally, I love listening to the playlists generated by Spotify. It has some great selection of acoustics and songs for relaxing and unwinding.
6. Personalize your space.
You might as well make yourself at home, even though the open office is not ideal. Sometimes, even adding little décor items, such photos, magnets, and a fancy tissue box can make you feel more at ease in your space and give the illusion that you’re working from your home office.
7. Relish your evenings and weekends.
Congratulate yourself for surviving the entire day or week at the office. Your evenings and weekends is a chance for you to rest and recharge your introvert batteries. What I usually look forward to after work is cozying up to a book, playing the piano, and sleeping in over the weekends. Exploring my hobbies and giving myself downtime to unwind is essential for maintaining my emotional health and sanity—especially as a quiet person in a noisy world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Chea is a writer and content marketer at 9thCO, a digital agency based in Toronto. She graduated from McGill University with a BA Hon. in philosophy. During her spare time, she enjoys playing the piano and blogging.
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