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Tips for Surviving an Open Plan Office

Interior Of Busy Modern Open Plan OfficeMoving to a new office layout means that you may need to operate differently in order to thrive. Here are a few tips to surviving an open plan office.

Research, by the University of Queensland, shows that open plan offices may lead to increased conflict, stress and staff turnover. A study by the University of Sydney also states that nine out of ten Australian offices are now adopting this style.

Advantages and disadvantages of an open plan office

The benefits of the open plan office layout include improved communication and collaboration. They are also more cost effective, with less floorspace and overheads for employers.  There are also some disadvantages, such as open plan offices can be noisy and distracting and there can be a lack of confidentiality with less dedicated offices.

There is more to moving to a new office than packing boxes and setting up your desk.  The steps below outline some key tips on how to work with this office layout, and improve your relationship with your colleagues.

1.   Tolerance

Adapting to a new open-office layout will likely require more tolerance from everyone. The key advantages of this design are founded upon collaboration. Unfortunately, no one is going to act the way you want them to 100% of the time, however, there are a few things you can do to show tolerance towards your colleagues

  • Focus on the positive aspects of your job, negativity at this time will fester and grow in you and others
  • Look for what’s going right, and where there are challenges, talk about what you can do to fix or contribute positively towards the situation
  • If someone is beginning to disrupt what you are doing, they may not be aware of it.  Be polite and courteous and bring it up with them. Talk about the challenges in the new office layout and discuss solutions together.

2.   Empathy

When adjusting to your new work space, think about how others will be experiencing your behaviour.   Be mindful of what could bother your colleagues on multiple levels. Are you creating unnecessary noises, odours or sights that may disturb someone around you?  For example, calling a family member using your speaker phone, or eating a tuna salad may not be appreciated. Things you can do include:

  • Maintain personal hygiene and refrain from excessive cologne/perfume
  • Keep personal workspaces and shared areas tidy
  • Enjoy your food away from your desk – in a lunch room or breakout area
  • If you need to take a lengthy phone call, or a discussion is becoming noisy – attempt to minimise disruption by using a space away from your colleagues.

3.   Respect

Although open-plan workspaces foster collaboration, they need not be a disruption.  You will most likely be working physically much closer to your colleagues and with more people in the workplace.  Respect towards your colleagues can be shown through:

  • Remembering that joined desks or sharing a desk (in a ‘hot desk’ situation) with your colleague does not entitle you to treat their space as your own. Keep your documents and personal items on your own desk, in a neat and tidy fashion
  • Use the office messaging system (Lync, Yammer or similar) to check if someone is free to talk. Just because you can see they are at their desk, does not mean they are free
  • If you’re unsure if someone is free to talk – pretend as if there was still a door between you and ask if they have time. Respect their situation and act accordingly. Making a short appointment time seems formal, but shows respect for that person’s time.
  • If you need to take a confidential phone call – utilise a corridor or a private area
  • If you are sick – don’t come to work as it will put others at risk.


Even in a simple office move, people feel the effects of the change and may need time to transition into the new space.  Being tolerant, empathetic and respectful towards you colleagues can help you not only survive the move, but thrive in an open plan office.

If you would like to help build your team through times of change, contact TMS on (07) 3003 1473 or email us at for a no-obligation discussion.


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TMS Consulting