Deadlines loom and the holidays approach, all you want to do is finish work for a critical project. However, your work neighbor is distracting you with their relationship woes; then another colleague walks up from behind and taps on your shoulder startling you. Chitchat, weird noises, unexpected physical contact, and other disruptions abound. Due to your open workspace, where desks are shared and walls are scarce, you feel bombarded with distractions and unable to work efficiently. Your recent trauma, be it sexual assault or another event, makes you even more on edge. Is this familiar? These are some of the challenges people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) face daily in open workspaces.
Even for people without ADHD or recent traumas, open workspaces reduce productivity and focus, while increasing sick leave rates, as noted in the research by Haynes, Mak, Bodin, Haapakangas, and others. A BBC report estimated that open office concepts reduce productivity by 15%, yet continue to be favored by many employers. Open office concepts aren’t disappearing soon. They were originally designed to maximize collaboration, improve employee social interactions and maximize employee satisfaction, as noted by Al Marzouq et al, but they have since also been promoted to reduce employer costs by reducing the office space, office equipment, and walls required per employee. Currently, approximately 70% of American companies have cubicle free, wall free open offices (Smollan et al). This trend is expected to increase as more people work part time from home, utilize flex schedules, seek more collaboration and for other reasons don’t need full time use of an office desk, as found in studies by Bernstein and Maher.
Since open offices aren’t going away, here are tips to consider in order to work as effectively as possible within them.
If you are facing challenges focusing, avoiding distractions, or managing emotions in the workplace due to ADHD, trauma, or office setup, please make time to consult with your work supervisor, counseling and/or medical teams to formulate a plan that allows you to be the best you in the workplace, and still adhere to your company’s mission, regulations, and protocols.
You deserve to have the tools you need to excel in your workplace and career.
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Bernstein, Ethan S., and Stephen Turban. "The impact of the ‘open’workspace on human collaboration." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 373.1753 (2018): 20170239.
Bodin Danielsson, Christina, et al. "Office design's impact on sick leave rates." Ergonomics 57.2 (2014): 139-147.
Haapakangas, Annu, et al. "Benefits of quiet workspaces in open-plan offices–Evidence from two office relocations." Journal of Environmental Psychology 56 (2018): 63-75.
Haynes, Barry P. "The impact of office layout on productivity." Journal of facilities Management 6.3 (2008): 189-201.
Khazanchi, Shalini, et al. "A spatial model of work relationships: The relationship-building and relationship-straining effects of workspace design." Academy of Management Review 43.4 (2018): 590-609.
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Oldham, Greg R., and Daniel J. Brass. "Employee reactions to an open-plan office: A naturally occurring quasi-experiment." Administrative science quarterly (1979): 267-284
Smollan, Roy K., and Rachel L. Morrison. "Office design and organizational change." Journal of Organizational Change Management (2019).