Open office? More reason to watch your manners!

From closeted cabins to open offices, we sure have come a long way. Everywhere you look, closed confines are giving way to open spaces in workplaces in different industries. As Suniti Joshi, an interior designer and planner in Mumbai says, “It is cost-effective, and you can accommodate more people in the given area. Open plan offices are economical because heating or cooling the workspace is done easily. Also, if the layout needs to be rearranged, or a few extra work stations accommodated, it can be done quickly and without too much additional cost.”

Apart from the obvious practical value, open offices may very well be a way of ‘breaking down’ walls and repositioning one workplace as one with a more ‘open’ culture. Some like Solomon Abraham, Practice Lead at Ikya Human Capital Solutions, are all for it. “Open spaces are one of the best things to happen in India. They energise employees, knowledge flow is quick and accurate, and performances are at an all time high.”

Some like Pragya Thakur, Circulation Business Director at a consumer-publishing group, are not so keen on it for strong reasons that delve beyond the obvious. “I suppose people thought open offices would promote more sociability and dissolution of hierarchical perceptions. Of course, that didn’t happen because those who are higher up in the corporate food chain still have their window offices with the spectacular views.”

Well, whatever be the intent behind the concept of open offices and whether we want them or not, offices and their cultures are opening up in more ways than one. If you happen to work in one of these open offices, there are some ‘unwritten’ rules you might want to follow to keep your work environment conducive and productive.

Here’s how to work effectively and make the most of your open office:

  • Keep the noise level down: Don’t yell or talk loudly across cubicles or across the working hall. Keep the volume of your phone on low and answer calls preferably in the first two rings. Don’t talk on your phone loudly. Use speaker phones only in closed rooms/ areas designated for making conference calls. It is extremely rude and distracting to those working around you.

    Use the receiver unless you must have your team members in the conference call. Make sure others around are not getting disturbed, or use it only late in the evening when the office has emptied out. Also avoid chatting in groups around others’ desks. If you wish to convey something, especially unpleasant, use a closed room to avoid any embarrassment.

  • Respect others’ privacy: Don’t peep into others’ monitors or open drawers that don’t belong to you. It can be infuriating to find that your neighbour has been going through your desk drawer or peeking at your monitor on the pretext of looking for a stapler.

    As Jagdeep Kaur, Senior Curriculum Developer, Oracle, says, “Working in open spaces becomes very uncomfortable when one is dealing with confidential content on one’s computer. You never know when who might see what, especially if you have a nosy neighbour. This puts a strain on you to be alert and on your guard at all times, which becomes very inconvenient and tiring after a while.”

    Pragya concurs, particularly with regard to lunchtime. “There’s the thing about watching people eat their lunches at their desks, or being watched eating one’s own lunch. We live a large chunk of our lives in our offices, at our desks, and it really affects our quality of life when nothing we do or say in those hours is private.”

  • Don’t just land up at someone’s work station: If you need to speak to someone but are not sure if they are available for a little ‘chit-chat’, check their status message on the office communicator. If not, you can always send them a short mail indicating the purpose of your meeting. They’ll revert whenever they are relatively free.

    Some elements, especially social butterflies, are in constant need to touch base with people and can end up at anybody’s work station without considering the fact that others might be busy and not in the mood to spend time gossiping. It can be is very annoying when people land up at your desk without any intimation while you are trying to either meet a deadline or focus on your work.

  • Keep your desk and cubicle uncluttered: Nothing leads to a shabby, unprofessional impression more than a cluttered, dirty desk in open view, especially if you are sharing a cubicle. Keep loose sheets, scraps of paper etc out of open view. Organise your desk by keeping it dust free, with all papers filed or clipped and stationery and other random items in a drawer.
  • Don’t become an island: Don’t use individual work stations as a pretext to become an island all your working hours. Get involved in topics of common interests and try to help your team members when someone is stuck.

    Avers Jagdeep, “I have always enjoyed working in open spaces and have never found myself yearning for a cabin or closed private space of my own. In offices, I like being able to just turn around and speak to my neighbours. Or, just stand up and look around and just gesture to attract their attention whenever I need help. Proximity also helps team members bond with each other.”

    Suniti too feels that open offices make communication and supervision easier. “Issues and problems reach the management very fast as they too are part of the central office space, and therefore solutions are arrived at faster.”

    A few other dos and don’ts:

    Avoid strong perfumes/deodorants: Some colleagues might be allergic to strong smells and odours. It’s better to keep it light and soft. Also be mindful of food and feet odours that are far from pleasant and hang in the confines of air-conditioned environment for a while.

    Health and hygiene: When you sneeze or cough, cover you mouth or use a tissue. Do not leave used tissues lying around to spread germs and diseases.

    Sit up straight: Slouching indicates laziness and disinterest in work. And, that’s the last thing you would want your colleagues and bosses to perceive.

    Keep your soft board non-offensive: Watch what you put up on the soft board so that your colleagues are not offended. Avoid jokes or cartoons of a sexual, racist or political nature, these could stir up tensions or make colleagues uncomfortable.

    Don’t wriggle your way through work stations: Use the designated passages/ aisles instead of wriggling and maneuvering your way through people’s work stations and chairs. A little discipline never hurt anyone.

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