Strategies For Introverts In Open Office Spaces

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As an introvert, I'm going to be honest: There is no nightmare like an open office working space. That said, there are plenty of ways for introverts to handle an open office space. I know, I know; it may sound hard to believe, but I promise you, it's possible. To be fair, there are actually many benefits to open office plans, and a lot of communities really thrive in them. Heck, even some introverts thrive in open office environments — I just happen not to be one of them. Whether or not you love your open office workspace, though, you still need to be able to feel comfortable in it and able to do your job while you're there.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways introverts can cope with open office settings, even when they're not their ideal setup. At first, it's likely to feel overwhelming and exhausting, but that's OK! You can get through it. If something is truly bothering you, it's also OK to talk to your supervisor about other options, such as working remotely or reserving a conference space. That said, it's good to have your own arsenal of options for how to deal with working in an open office space when it's not really your jam. Check out the following for some starting points:

1. Be Patient With Your Coworkers

I know patience can be tough to wrestle with, but it's so beneficial to be patient with your coworkers. Depending on your job requirements, your colleagues may need to interrupt you often to ask questions, clarify materials, or report back to you with updates. They might seek out your advice because you're a mentor for them or because you have a certain area of expertise. While these moments can be frustrating when you just need some peace and quiet to organize your thoughts and recoup, it's important to remember that people aren't trying to stress you out or overwhelm you, but connect with you. It's OK to tell people that you're working on a project but will be available at a certain time later, or that you prefer questions to come at you via email, etc. Remember to set up personal boundaries and have patience for your peers, both.

2. Don't Complain About The Floor Plan

Unless your supervisor explicitly asks for your thoughts on the open office setup, don't complain about the floor plan. Keep in mind that as much as you dislike it, other people may enjoy it; it might just be the way your office is. I know it's tough to hear, but in my opinion, this is one of those instances where it may be more beneficial to figure out ways to deal with the situation rather than try to change it. While it's generally good to voice your feelings and work towards change, talking about switching up an open office plan is (probably) not going to get you anywhere unless your thoughts on the matter are actively being solicited.

3. Use Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Noise-cancelling headphones may be the saving grace of introverts all across the world. I'm serious: What's better than putting in your headphones while you unwind and listen to your favorite podcast or playlist? Heck, I've even occasionally put in my headphones without actually listening to anything when I'm in a public space and just need to signal to others that I'm not open for a conversation. Headphones are also an easy way to signal to coworkers that you're not ready and waiting to start up a discussion. Noise-cancelling headphones also work to tune out all of the background noise that is (unfortunately) inevitable in an open office setting.

4. Lead By Example When It Comes To Noise

If you're an introvert and don't love open office spaces, lead by example. Don't add into the culture of noise that's bothering you, and certainly don't take part in the distracting activities that bug you. If you need to use your cell phone, excuse yourself to go outside or step into an empty conference room. If you want to listen to music, plug in your headphones. If you see that a coworker is busy, ask yourself: Can I wait to talk to them? Can I send this over email or chat? When talking with coworkers, remember to keep your voices at a moderate level and be considerate of those working around you who aren't involved in the conversation.

5. Take Breaks When You Can

For a lot of people who are introverts, social situations can be exhausting. Depending on the nature of your job, you might have to do a lot of socializing as part of your role. That's OK! Introverts can definitely handle social environments, but it's important to recognize when you can take a small break and recoup. If you can step outside for your lunch break or to grab a coffee, make it a point to do so. If you can take a quick break by simply pacing the hallway to clear your head, go for it. It's good, too, to plan for periods right before and after work where you can gather your thoughts and have some alone time to recharge before you go into the next task, meeting with friends, or etc. Don't burn yourself out and realize later you wish you'd taken some time for yourself along the way.

Open office plans may not be ideal for everyone, but there are almost always ways to make it work for you. And I mean, hey, you can always get yourself an ostrich pillow, right?

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