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Open Plan Office Etiquette

Originally Published 05 April 2004

Talking too loud, munching food, tapping pencils, and rustling paper are just some of the annoying things our co-workers do that can affect our ability to concentrate on work. Uninvited invasion of space can further affect our ability to work efficiently. Such annoyances may force us to stomp out of the room so as to cool our temper before returning to our desks whereby we will once again try to do our work efficiently and, hopefully, without interruptions.

You may think that all this awaits you on moving to University House with its open plan office arrangement. Open plan offices have many benefits such as bringing about a closer working relationship with colleagues from within your own department. And, if there were any departmental barriers previously in place they are likely to be crossed within an open plan office. Additionally, open plan offices can be a fun place to work in due to increased social interaction giving a feeling of belonging to large family. However, if you aren’t convinced, this article presents some tips on open plan office survival!

Open plan offices became popular in the 1970s as a way of improving communication and productivity of the workforce. However, there have been suggestions that lack of privacy and increased distraction will make workers less efficient. It is well known that introverts like to focus on work and for such people interruptions may break their concentration whilst extroverts appear to be able to deal with interruptions and even regard them as stimulation and as being part of work.

Regardless of our personality traits, open plan office etiquette does exist.

  • Always read the cues given by your colleagues i.e. a wild stare may mean 'shut up'
  • Avoid using speaker phones and set a low volume telephone ring
  • Remember, your conversation may be disturbing others - keep your voice low and do not stand about chatting close to other people's workspace
  • Enter other people's workspace with due care and attention - look for go away/welcome cues
  • Shouting across the office to fellow work colleagues is not recommended
  • Avoid eating at your desk (or at least avoid eating things that are smelly and crunchy)
  • Listening to music will annoy others as you will, without doubt, hum along to it
  • If you have to use a mobile phone ensure it is set to vibrate rather than ring or have the volume set low
  • Need some peace and quiet to read those all-important documents? Consider booking a meeting room or visiting the Atrium to concentrate on some quiet work
  • Do not leave any valuables on your desk or anywhere around your work area as they may go walkabouts
  • A rear-view mirror may be handy to alert you to visitors and if you do not want to be disturbed take appropriate action - dip your head and do some work (alternatively pretend to read a statistical analysis book), they should read the cues and go away
  • Throwing crumpled-up paper at your work colleagues is to be avoided at all costs no matter how strong the urge is to do it!
  • Finally, try not to have a smoochey moment at the office party with someone on your floor, as you may spend the rest of your working life trying to avoid their unwanted loving gaze!

Open plan offices are regarded as a nice social environment to be in, one in which a lot of work gets done. There is a need to concentrate on the things you are trying to do rather than paying attention to what’s happening around you. People who have worked in open plan offices like to point out how connected they feel with everything as though part of a big family and add that they could not go back to the isolation of a single office environment. So, whatever you think about open plan offices don’t knock it until you have tried it and, hopefully, once you have tried it you will enjoy your time at University House.

Do you think there are any cardinal rules of open plan etiquette that are missing? Make your suggestions on the insite news Warwick Forum -