Open plan offices are meant to facilitate collaboration and better teamwork, bring down barriers to communication and close the gap between leadership and staff. However, the reality can be quite different with distractions, lack of privacy and differences in personality just some of the drawbacks.
With shared work spaces the norm these day, all it may take is a few ground rules and some changes in behaviour to ensure your day in the office is a pleasant one.
Know your open plan etiquette
In an open plan environment, a code of conduct must apply:
- Show consideration and respect for people’s privacy and personal space.
- Be aware of your actions and words.
- Use good judgement before stepping up to someone’s desk. Sitting in open plan doesn’t mean everyone is always available for a chat, even if it is work related.
- Keep it tidy – messy desks are not for public consumption.
- 11 official languages in South Africa make for a diverse work population. Don’t intentionally speak in a language that excludes others, especially with work-related tasks and information. Keep the vernacular for social occasions (in the canteen for example).
Managing noise levels
- Clatter in an open environment can be a challenge, but modern office layouts are now creating deliberate spaces for focused individual work where you can step away from your desk when a quiet area is needed.
- If these facilities are not available, it’s acceptable to put your ear phones in to tune out the distractions. But get the okay from your manager first as this can also be a communication blocker when, for example, someone calls for your attention and you can’t hear them.
- Speak in moderate tones – to each other or over the phone. Loud conversations are distracting.
- Phones and gadgets can also be disruptive if not managed properly. Ringtones, notifications, streaming videos, etc. can irritate your colleagues if volumes are not adjusted appropriately. Silent or vibrate mode is recommended for ringtones.
Keeping it confidential
- Private discussions or classified information should never be shared in a public space.
- Use discussion booths or small meeting rooms for that tricky chat with a difficult colleague.
- Be mindful not to address sensitive topics in earshot of the entire team.
No eating allowed
- Food odours are a challenge; not everyone appreciates the smell of last night’s fish dinner! It’s why eating at your desk is inconsiderate. It also looks messy and loud chewing can be a distraction.
- Pause areas are created to allow you the space to take a break, recharge and refuel – so use them.
Different rules for different industries
- The level of privacy and acceptable noise levels differs between industries, as does the ratio of open plan spaces to enclosed offices. Ad agencies, for example, enjoy a certain hustle and bustle to get the creative juices flowing, while law firms prefer a more subdued environment to support concentrated individual work.
- Big corporates have different departments, each with its own codes of conduct. Be mindful of this as you go through the various spaces and don’t assume they work the way you do.
Notango is part of the Business Development team at Tétris, the design and build arm of JLL. Find out more on the Tétris website.