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9 etiquette rules for an open-plan office

How to reduce distractions with office design

Many businesses made the move to an open-plan office in recent years because they thought it would boost collaboration and help productivity. However, some employees find the arrangement frustrating, especially if they work better in silence while their colleagues prefer to have the radio on in the background. Writing for Entrepreneur, business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore outlined these nine rules for an open-plan office.

1 Respect others
An open office doesn’t mean an open door. Respect the fact that others might not be available to talk and always ask them if they have a moment before you start a conversation.

2 Beware of smells
We’ve all got that colleague who eats smelly food for lunch on occasion. If you work in an open-plan office, just be aware of strong smells from food and try to eat anything particularly pungent in the break room or outside. Remember also that some people are sensitive to certain scents, so don’t wear heavy perfume or cologne.

3 Don’t be noisy
Pay attention to the volume of your voice when talking to colleagues or on the phone and be wary of any habits you have such as tapping on your desk or humming. What seems like a tiny noise to you might be a huge distraction to another.

4 Tidy up
A messy desk can also be a big distraction to others and it also detracts from the professional image of your company. If your desk doesn’t have built-in storage, ask for desktop organisers or plastic drawers to store your belongings and paperwork.

5 Don’t hog space
Every individual desk should be treated as a private office. Don’t take supplies from a colleague’s workspace without asking and if you use it to put something on while they’re away, make sure it’s gone before they come back.

6 Stay at home when you’re sick
Research shows that 86% of employees will go to work with an infectious illness. That’s bad enough in a traditional office, but open plans and sickness are not a good mix. Not only do you risk spreading germs, your coughing, sneezing and sniffing might also cause a distraction. If you absolutely have to come to work, wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer and excuse yourself if you need to blow your nose.

7 Be considerate
We’ve given you etiquette tips in the past. It’s especially important to follow these rules and be courteous to your colleagues in an open-plan office, where a negative relationship can feel like an elephant in the room.

8 Be understanding
Everybody has a different working style and it’s important to respect that. Be tolerant of others’ views and personalities to keep a pleasant atmosphere in the office.

9 Think like a team
You may have several departments sharing a space in an open-plan office, but you should still all work as a single team. After all, you’re all there for the same reason – to make your business successful. So don’t gossip and make sure everyone feels included.

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