I've just started working at an office laid out using an open plan. Everyone has their own desk, but everyone can mostly see and hear everyone else. The group seems to have figured out how to use this plan effectively - conversations are generally held quietly, and headphones are in liberal use.

My question is: what can I do (or avoid doing) to not disrupt my other teammates' workflows?

Edit: While this question may seem similar, they differ on a few key points. The other question is about dealing with coworkers who are being disruptive.

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    I did notice that question, and, while it is also about adjusting to an open-plan office, it's about remedying a problem. My question is more about how to join a smoothly running team without disrupting them. – John Walthour Nov 19 '13 at 3:38
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    Don't browse /r/WTF while at work :) – ThiefMaster Nov 22 '13 at 20:04

This one I know! I've suffered the "Open-Office Torture" many times, as a consultant.

First and foremost, pay attention to smells. If you bring your lunch, put it in the fridge or keep it in a sealed cooler. No paper bags at your desk. The smell is much more noticeable to your coworkers than you think. The same goes for trash - no food waste at your desk. Keep it in the kitchen / breakroom or take it outside. (I'm assuming you've got personal hygiene covered. Some people don't. Some really don't.)

Second - personal space. You can usually discern a "line" that segregates the individual workspace from the common walkway. Respect it. Stand behind the line until you're invited in.

Believe it or not, those two things will go a LONG way in getting along with your coworkers.

The rest are pretty common-sense. Take any personal calls to a breakroom, conference room, or at least out of the common workspace. If you plan on having conversations about the project that involve more than three people or will take more than 5 minutes, book a conference room. Book conference rooms if you are receiving client reps or vendors. No visually gaudy or politically-messaged items in your cube. (No, not everyone likes Teletubbies, Battlestar Galactica, or garden gnomes as much as you do.)

And, of course, try not to let others' transgressions of those rules get under your skin too often.

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    And please don't look at their computer screens :| – amar Nov 19 '13 at 7:47
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    @amar makes a good point - deliberately not noticing what others are doing is usually part of the etiquette, unless you are their manager/supervisor. Let's get something straight, your colleagues will at some point be browsing the internet instead of working: but making an issue of it will turn the workspace toxic fast, and reduce productivity more than them wasting 20 minutes would. – Jon Story Oct 29 '15 at 14:18

The best thing to do is be professional as possible. Remember:

  1. Just because you're viewing your personal email doesn't mean it's going to be "private." Same for phone calls, as already mentioned.
  2. Be organized at your desk. The more organized you are, and the more clean you are, the more you can focus.
  3. A focus and productive employee is not one others will want to bother all the time. Especially with an open office set up.
  4. Avoid gossip!! Avoid it like your life depends on it!
  5. At the end of the day, it's a job. You go into work, do your job and then leave it at your desk when your shift is done.

Navigating the workplace doesn't have to be difficult. People can certainly make it challenging for sure, but a lot of it is up to you.

  • I hadn't thought about the gossip part - that sounds extra important to avoid in an open office – John Walthour Nov 19 '13 at 17:41
  • A focussed and productive emplyoee is the one that the others will tend to approach with questions and seeking help... expect to be bothered (a lot!), perhaps create a wiki page documenting the most common answers. You can thrive here. I have heard of places where the team each have a 'flag' adjacent to their screen which they raise when 'in the zone' and really would not welcome an interruption. – Ed Randall Mar 27 '17 at 8:59

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