How Not to Hate Your Life While Working in an Open Concept Office Space

These tips are coming from a brat who just recently was thrown into an open concept floor plan after a year of cubicle bliss.
Publish date:
January 27, 2016
work, office culture, people

If you see me rocking back and forth sucking my thumb in a fetal position at 3pm on a Tuesday, I have three words for you: Open. Fucking. Concept.

Okay, that’s a huge exaggeration, but it’s a mass office trend that is found almost everywhere now. I get the idea behind the open concept office – it’s cheaper, and it supposedly brings a work community together. I say all this begrudgingly, a brat who just recently was thrown into an open concept floor plan after a year of cubicle bliss.

For anyone who is not aware of this trendy new phenomena in corporate America, open concept is just a massive open space with desks, without “cattle stalls” of employees penned in.

Actually, most of my jobs have been some form of open concept before that was even a phrase Frank Gehry said. There was the uber-hip magazine in Soho where I didn’t even have a desk, but a table I shared with two other writers. There was the much larger magazine where I had a patch of carpeted floor to sit on, coffee and Poptart perched precariously on a shoe rack. The fashion website where I literally bumped elbows with our bulky fitness editor, and the law firm where I had tons of space and my own filing cabinet but there were four (at one point five) cats.

Then… I was gifted my very own cubicle at a national lifestyle brand I’ve always loved, and a beautiful little gray box of a cubicle. I could swing my roll-y chair around with reckless abandon, shove a huge tuna Subway sandwich into my face without worrying about being a lady, and I could reapply deodorant with no one noticing. Bliss for a year.

Then, we moved into the exact same building that now houses xoJane, and my personal space went from copious, wild and free, to making awkward eye contact with a PA for another brand, who glares at me sometimes when I absentmindedly chew the ice from my seltzer (I’m working on it).

There are definite pros and cons – you just need some tweaks here and there to make it a productive and pleasant experience. Of course it helps if you like who you work with, which lucky for me I do work with a bunch of badass babes whose faces I very much enjoy. Here are a few tips to keep you focused when dealing with—sighhhhh—“open concept.”

Invest in quality headphones

I have a pair of really amazing Caeden noise-cancelling headphones, and I would make out with them if I could. If or when I start to feel a little murdery because of the general hubbub around me, I put those babies on and ask myself what music would make me feel calm and creative and focused. Hell, sometimes I leave them on with no music, because the muffling affect they have is soothing. It’s surprising how cathartic it can be to listen to a band like Kittie (REMEMBER KITTIE?) while surrounded by people who have no idea what’s going on in my ears.

I also have an ongoing Spotify playlist with our art director (sup, Colleen), which has been an amazing way to find or remember music while still kind of staying connected to your work.

Actually take a lunch break

Remember when, at jobs, you were actually required to take a lunch? Is that a thing anymore? Before we moved to open concept, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t absentmindedly munching on chips in front of my screen. We started eating lunch in the kitchen to avoid looks about smells or crunching, and it’s surprisingly mind-clearing.

Even if it’s not for the full hour (which it never is), the act of just going somewhere else and coming back reminds you that “oh yeah… lunch is a good thing.” Also, I’ve found that I feel full longer because I am more focused on my food and the people around me instead of work, or a video of a girl smashing her face into bread (which was actually the best thing ever).

Pay attention to what you need

I have realized over time that I am an outgoing introvert, which sounds like it makes no sense but I’m probably so not alone. I crave the stimulation of being social but in small doses and with anxiety regarding something I actually very much enjoy. I’ve learned that it’s okay to step away for small bits of time if I need to, or if the noise is overwhelming. My brain is constantly fighting with itself to call a friend or stay home alone under a blanket forever.

I feel like probably a lot of people are that way too, it’s just a matter of taking a second to ask yourself what you need to feel comfortable, and as long as it’s not crazy illegal or involving Crocs, doing it is possible. Take a walk, get fresh air, listen to part of a podcast, and then come back refreshed and ready to work.

Make your space your own

When I had a cubicle, that shit was papered with fashion editorials, littered with hand lotions, and I even had a toy baby dinosaur I named Lyz, after myself. Now that there’s less space, I want to keep the individuality of my desk without it being crowded and offensive.

It’s still a work in progress, but I’m waiting for the next Nylon issue for their devastatingly cool beauty stories to post. I now have my Dave Grohl coffee mug, some luxe TokyoMilk lotion that smells like smoked tea and coconut milk, a YSL lipstick I will never wear but the tube is gorgeous, and a pen that says “Not Today Satan” I got at a heavy metal-themed flea market. I have limited space, but I’m trying to surround myself with a few things that just make me super happy (you heard me say "Dave Grohl coffee mug," right?) and grounded. You’ll be surprised how much a little bit of you injected into a space can make you feel more like yourself and help you focus on being creative.

Embrace the interaction

Lastly, I love my job and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon so this floor plan is here to say. Embrace it. Just as it is important to take time alone and give yourself space, it is important to jump in feet-first and be present. If it’s someone’s birthday, walk over and show face, talk to someone new, the feeling of discomfort will always go eventually. Embrace the concept of openness. Plus, once you get back to your desk, you can still blast Limp Bizkit into your head for as long as your little worker bee heart desires.