I never thought I would work in an office, let alone in a government one. Since being hired I have occupied a giant gray cubicle with lights so harsh I requested building services unscrew the bulbs. The cubicle walls were so high I couldn’t see over the top without wearing heels. The windows were blocked by office walls and other cubicles. To say it didn’t inspire teamwork or innovation is an understatement.
That gray cubicle is now being dismantled; I have been displaced to the third floor while construction is underway. When it is finished the space will have a completely different feel to it, an open feel. I will have a desk where I can sit or stand to work. My team’s meeting areas will be greater in number and better equipped. Natural light will filter in above the shorter cubicle walls. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? I love the idea of open work spaces because I am focused on the positives. While it certainly brings some logistical challenges and potential morale deflators, most of these have easy solutions.
1. An office is a status symbol, just like the cubicles with windows. If you’re an office-dweller who is transplanted to a cubicle, it can feel like a demotion. Try to counteract this by reminding yourself why you do what you do. If that doesn’t work, start a new project you are passionate about to distract yourself from your loss.
2. Paranoia sets in. Everyone is watching when you come and go. If I’m being honest, some people probably are taking mental notes of your time away, but there is no need to announce when you’re going to grab a cup of coffee or go to lunch. Unless you’re offering to pick something up for me, in which case, please let me know!
3. Many government employees spend a lot of time on conference calls. Once you are in an open work space, it is common courtesy not to take those calls on speakerphone at your desk; it will disrupt everyone around you. Instead you could have the call on a day you normally telework or schedule a small conference room in which you can take the call. If you want to truly embrace the collaborative environment, check with your colleagues to see if others are participating in the call and invite them to the conference room.
4. As people work we collect things: things that are meaningful, things that are funny, things that we use. If your personal work space is downsized, where will it all go? You are going to have to eliminate some of your things. Be mindful. Don’t just throw everything away and don’t dump everything on a table assuming others will want your partially dried out highlighters. Recycle outdated manuals and return unused office supplies.
5. The number of people wearing headphones will likely increase. How do you get their attention without scaring them? Waving your hands behind them will not work unless they happen to turn around. Lightly touching their chair or shoulder works well but that will startle some people. If you’re constantly needing to get a chronic headphone user’s attention, ask him/her what he/she prefers.
6. It’s going to be noisy! Well…that one is just a fact.
Change can be scary. If you’re not looking forward to it, try switching your focus from the unknowns that are potentially awful, to those that are potentially awesome: further team development, an uncluttered area, and don’t forget about that natural lighting! This could be the jolt you and your team need to infuse your work with creativity and collaboration!
And maybe it’s time to invest in a pair of good headphones.