An open workspace can present a massive change to anyone used to a more traditional office atmosphere. Even for employees accustomed to working in a cubicle, the visual distractions that a truly open environment adds can make for a tough transition.

In another post, I’ve discussed the positives of my transition to an open office environment. It hasn’t always been the easiest change. After all, I find myself on the borderline between true extrovert and true introvert. So my willingness and ability to interact with others depends on my work for the day, my mood and a thousand other factors.

And yet I’ve found ways to stay productive in an open workspace. I believe I’ve discovered 5 universal tips that will help anyone do the same. Any one of these tips can help you regain your work ethic when you need to commit to some heads-down work in an open atmosphere.

Tested Tips to Stay Productive in an Open Workspace

1. Invest in good headphones.

The right headphones can make a night-and-day difference when trying to stay productive in an open workspace. They let you quickly block and unblock your senses as needed, allowing you to switch seamlessly between collaboration and solo work. You can try using the free earbuds you got with your last phone, but they don’t work nearly as well as an over-the-ear headset.

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2. Be comfortable saying “no.”

Sometimes the greatest challenge in an open office is holding yourself accountable for your own work. The greatest benefit of these floorplans is their ability to facilitate collaboration and discussion, but employees in these environments are sometimes in danger of “over-helping.” When surrounded by discussion and colleagues in need of assistance, we occasionally put our work second to the problems of others.

But that can’t be our default setting. In that case, we’d always fall behind. Each of us is primarily accountable for our work. And so, when we’re busy, that requires saying “no” from time to time. Collaboration is useful for producing innovative ideas, but if you’re always helping others, then you’ll never stay productive for long.

3. Ensure everyone plays by the same rules.

Any open workspace depends on agreed-upon rules that help everyone maintain sanity: where people can take calls, where “quiet” areas are, how people reserve meeting rooms, etc. But the problem with rules is they’re easy to break. Exceptions will always come up during the workday; your team will need to be flexible. However, if you and your teammates don’t hold each other accountable to these rules, your office will slip away from them.

Continue that trend, and your open workspace will resemble the island from “Lord of the Flies” (or any other anarchy) more than a productive work environment.

4. Identify your ways of finding solitude.

Because some days you just can’t deal with a buzzing office. (Or at least I can’t.) In my experience, a completely open environment can make work stressful when I’m busy or behind. In those situations, you need an escape plan to retreat to a quieter atmosphere. It could be a quiet room at work (I’m currently writing in one), a local library or coffee shop, or your home office. Whatever you prefer, give yourself options — don’t lock yourself into an open environment on days when crosstalk will drain your productivity.

5. Be comfortable changing your surroundings as needed.

This point directly follows from the last one. A backup plan is only as good as your willingness to use it. I used to worry that leaving my open office would make me less of a “team player.” But, there’s no need to apologize for ditching this kind of atmosphere when needed. It’s designed for collaboration, so if you don’t have to collaborate a quieter place may serve you better. Your colleagues will understand.

Again, it’s important to remember all the positives that an open floor plan can bring to your office: boosted collaboration, increased innovation and more profound connections between colleagues. These tips shouldn’t scare you away from your office, but instead let you stay productive in an open workspace and get the most out of it.

If you work in an open environment, what has helped you? Comment below!


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