Open-space Ethics for Co-workers

Open-space offices are fast becoming the norm. For businesses and workers, they offer many advantages: easier communication for collaboration, lower costs, and greater transparency and accountability. There are some downsides, however, which can lead to loss of focus and productivity. Maintaining a happy and productive open-space office relies on efforts by all workers to respect each other’s privacy, minimize noise and distractions, to be tidy and above all to be tolerant.


Why Office Space is Being Restructured

As work and workplaces become more flexible, office spaces are being repurposed. One major change is that the open plan office layout is here to stay. Instead of separate offices with doors, there are workstations, which can be used by different people at different times. Many people even work remotely, without needing to come to the office at all.

All of this means that office space no longer follows the same rules as before. When you can use a tablet or mobile device to scan documents or to send a free fax you don’t really need a separate room for the photocopier. Many offices instead have comfortable lounges, with couches, comfy chairs, plants and even throw blankets, meditation spaces and quiet rooms.


Dos and Don’ts for Open-Space Office Workers

As much as 70% of all office space now follows an open plan layout, so chances are high that you will find yourself working in this type of environment. There are some dos and don’ts to be followed that will help to make you and your colleagues happier and more productive. With this in mind, here’s a roundup of the good, the bad and the downright ugly open-office behaviors.


The Good

Be Considerate

Open offices lack not only walls and doors but also cubicles and partitions. In this setting, you have to make an effort to focus on your work, and the best way to do this is by setting a good example. Minimizing noise and distractions lets everyone get on with their projects. If you like to listen to music while you work, use headphones.

Be Tidy

There’s almost nothing as demoralizing as clutter. In an open space, any visible clutter can demoralize an office full of people. If a mess is inevitable, make sure that you tidy up after yourself.

Use the Spaces Provided

You may not have any private space, but there are many other kinds of spaces in the office, for relaxing, eating, making phone calls, and private conversations. Many offices even have mediation spaces and rooms where you can set up afternoon yoga sessions for all those who are interested.

Improve Communication

This is in fact one of the goals of the open-space office. By making colleagues, managers and even CEOs more accessible, ideas get bounced back and forth, there’s less need for emails and delays, and more gets done. The downside can be that there are times when you do need to work quietly and without interruptions. Some offices have developed ways to handle these conflicting needs, by instituting a quiet time in which everyone works on their own. Others devise codes, such as wearing headphones, or putting a sign on the desk, to avoid interruptions.


The Bad

Avoid Strong Smells

Whether it’s an egg-y sandwich or a strong perfume, your office-mates may not share your tastes. Smells carry and linger in closed spaces and it can be difficult to focus on your work when the smell of your colleagues’ lunch is all around you. One of the worst offenders is the smell of cigarette smoke, which gets into everything.

Don’t be a Borrower

It’s easy to just casually borrow space, chairs or office supplies from the next workstation when there are no barriers, but it’s important to respect boundaries. Don’t borrow things without asking first.


The Ugly


Gossip and it’s meaner cousins hover around any cooperative enterprise, ready to sabotage things and poison relationships. They can be even more damaging in an open space, so the golden rule applies here: “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say it.”

Sick Days

Your dedication to work is appreciated, but not to the extent of bringing your infectious flu or cough to the office. It’s ok to take a couple of days to recover at home and then return to work fully restored to health.


Working in open-space offices is a reality. With some effort by everyone, it can become a highly productive and creative space.


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