Open offices are a panopticon hellhole. They might make it easier to collaborate, and they might help your boss pack more workers into a smaller space, but they leave you in earshot of every little sound your co-workers make. (You get to see and smell them, too!)
Screenshot: NBC Universal Television Studio
The most obvious coping mechanisms – headphones, phone booths, hiding in conference rooms – rely on closing up that openness. But one strategy, from Fast Company’s podcast Secrets of the Most Productive People, involves actually communicating with your co-workers.
If you can’t run away from all the chit-chat and distraction, try to synch it up, says Fast Company’s Anisa Purbasari Horton. Talk to your team about your daily schedules, and find a consensus on “talk times” and “quiet times”.
If your group can agree on it, you can even build an hourly schedule: 9-9:30 is chat and email time; the rest of the morning is quiet solo work; lunch is social hour; then quiet work until 4:30 when we all get chatty again. You could even have a preferred hour for scheduled phone calls, an afternoon surge of cacophony that makes your office sound like the one in Boiler Room.
This is also a good time to establish some expectations for goofing off online. Not in a strict “thou shalt only check Facebook at lunch” way, but in a “yep, we acknowledge that we can all see each other’s screens, and that we’re not judging each other for doing some clothes shopping in the afternoon”.
And if you’re the one planning a new office layout, consider a more closed space. If you really want your employees to talk to each other all day, get them all on Slack.