Proper Etiquette in an Open Workspace

Open Workspaces are becoming the norm. Everyone I’ve ever talked to about Open Workspaces was opposed to the idea; and people I know who work in Open Workspaces, hate it. While noise is the biggest complaint, the number of other distractions pales only by a circus marching through town.

However, thanks to some tech companies like Google and Facebook, the Corporate masses have decided this is the way to go. That said, there are so many pitfalls that come with an Open Workspace so if we can’t beat ‘em, proper etiquette should be considered.

No calls on speakerphone

Even people in offices are guilty of this one. I was an executive assistant for over 18 years and I will tell you, so many folks just open that line and dial and wait until someone picks up to pick up the phone. If they don’t pick up, then we get to listen to their voicemail followed by a shouted message.

Even if you are in an office, if your door is open, we can hear you and it is distracting. We can hear your sometimes personal and private conversations and it is a simple as picking up the receiver. This is three fold in an Open Workspace. If you are in a cubicle, get a headset or simply pick up the receiver before dialing.

Move loud conversations to the break room, hall, or conference room

The idea of an Open Workspace was to promote collaboration and sharing of ideas. That is great as long as your ideas aren’t next to the desk of someone that is trying to either take a call or read important documents to do their job.

If you feel the need to have a group pow wow, move to an outer lying area. If you work in a space like a call center or an area where you need to stay near your phone, then pull together a huddle and talk to each other at a lowered tone so you’re closer together and share your information and/or idea in a smaller space.

No profanity

At some point, it became acceptable behavior to cuss at work. I’m not talking about a simple H.E. double hockey sticks. I’m talking full on F bombs; from VPs no less. Now, I’m no prude. I even cuss but NOT AT WORK! It is beyond unprofessional and contrary to what they may think, your customers can hear your neighbors over the phone. There is no advice on this one except, if you don’t have a policy on this, write one and CUT IT OUT!

Be cognizant of the unnecessary noises, i.e, slamming of drawers and cabinets, tapping on the desk

To our gum poppers, our pen clickers, our leg tappers, and our pencil tappers…STOP IT! In an Open Workspace, we hear it all. I was told of one place where this guy has a broken drawer and he bangs it frequently and the fact that it is metallic makes it that much louder. While he has been advised to submit a repair ticket to facilities to have it fixed, he won’t do it and his manager, who sits in ear shot, won’t do anything except to say, “yeah – it’s loud.” Really!

While those of us who would like more quiet have to recognize that we are not the only ones in the room, more so, do the people who are the noise makers. Be considerate of the people around you and avoid banging your desk in laughter or anger, slamming doors and drawers, and just making extra noise. There is already plenty to contend with.

No Horse Play

There is a company in El Segundo, CA that will not hesitate to just throw stuff and chase each other around the floor. They have also been known to kick a beach ball around the floor or worse, toss it around like at a concert. If that wasn’t enough, they have Nerf Machine Gun fights on the call center floor during the holidays and had light sabers buzzing and fighting on May 4th (May the 4th be With You). This place is an HR nightmare, except, there are no rules on this and no one has called a stop to it. Beyond being a major distraction, it is a major hazard and that item that was meant to be playful, could veer off course and knock someone’s glasses off or scare them off balance and cause them to fall and hurt themselves.

To accommodate the energy that has become our youthful workplaces, some companies have reinstated recess. They have put basketball courts in their parking lot and they have games that people can play in the break room. This allows for a spirited workplace but not where people are trying to work. Perhaps those folks in El Segundo should take a lesson.

Food that is noisy or that smells

Lots of companies are supplying snacks for their workers. They are not always the healthiest choices but some are simply not appropriate at all times. Food like corn nuts or chips should not be eaten in a meeting or in a training class. It is extremely rude.

When in a group setting, if your stomach can’t wait, snack on something quiet, like soft cookies or pastries. And at any time in the office, avoid bringing food that has a strong aroma like fish, strawberries, and garlic to name a few. These smells permeate the office and can really cause headaches and in some cases nausea. Some companies have even outlawed microwave popcorn. Not because of the smell when it is cooked but because of the smell when it burns since so many people with start it and walk away and forget it.

This is also true for too much cologne. Even I love my Bath and Body Works lotion but some people may take offense to it. Save your gourmet experiments and all the smell good for your own home or environment.

Sharing audio or videos without a headset

I cannot tell you how many times I have walked into an open space like a break room or even a Starbucks and someone was playing their videos out loud. That’s right – no headphones. Parents do this with their kids in doctor’s offices now. I once asked a guy in line next to me at the bank who decided to take his call on speakerphone, “Do we all need to share in that call?” He quickly took it off speaker and spoke into the phone.

When you are in a common area and in an Open Workspace, that’s pretty much everywhere, do not play your music or videos out loud. Please use your headphones so that the people who can finally have a moment of peace on their lunch, can in fact do that.

Wear Headphones

So many articles recommend headphones to drown out the distracting noises of an open work place. However, having the headphones on for an extended period of time can cause headaches and you are just replacing one noise with another. The concentration level is still challenged because you can still hear the conversations going on around you and if you can’t…turn the music down because you will soon go deaf.

If you need to read, study, or concentrate on what you are doing, use headphones with abstract music or sounds playing, book a conference room, or go find a quiet place on a different floor of your office.

Take breaks alone – sit in your car (if it’s too hot or cold)

Sometimes the best thing is to isolate yourself. Take breaks and lunches in your car or go to a deserted part of your office building, if you can and if it is safe to do so. Maybe even sit in the stairwell to read for a little peace and quiet.

Have something that is soothing to you at your workspace

I have an app of a roaring fireplace that I play all day. Some days it is three burning candles, and some days it is a beautiful waterfall.

A word to the brilliant sadists that came up with this idea of an Open Workplace and the Corporate Execs who cosigned the idea from their quiet offices….

Don’t put thinking groups next to collaboration groups. Departments that often need high concentration like Accounting, HR, and Training should be together and departments like Customer Service, Quality Assurance, and Sales should be in the same space. Not just because of the noise factor but because you are putting like with like. If there must be open work spaces, then let there be a separation between extroverts and introverts.

Morale will increase and people who blend into either will adapt that much faster.

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