20 ways to drive your coworkers crazy in an open office
This week was an exciting week for Central Desktop! We are settling in at our shiny new headquarters right in the heart of Old Town Pasadena (our still-fairly-shiny office in Irvine is still in Irvine). One of the big changes: there are approximately 72,542 restaurants within easy walking distance. Another big change: it’s an open office design. No more cubicles! Big windows!
I’ve worked in an open office before, and there are a lot of benefits, but it isn’t always a barrel of laughs. I thought I’d take the opportunity to provide some cautionary notes to my colleagues. Thanks to Will on our sales team for pitching in ideas, none of which were too obviously targeted at me.
1. Find the worst times to chat.
Someone is packing up for the day, heading for the restroom, strolling back from the kitchen with a mouthful of bagel, or marching toward the conference room with a look of determination? Perfect time for chit-chat (or, even worse, delegating work).
2. Peek at everyone’s monitors as you walk around.
“Oh, hey, what’s that? Whatcha looking at? Central Desktop Blog? Looks cool.”
3. Appoint yourself Timecop.
Unless you are an actual Timecop, don’t be a Timecop. Mistaking “amount of time at desk or in office” for “amount of time spent working” is an outdated move not very befitting a collaborator in 2015.
4. Talk to people who are wearing headphones.
Maybe they’re trying to focus, maybe they’re trying to immerse themselves in the new Sleater-Kinney album… either way, they probably don’t want to talk about your weekend right now.
5. Never take off your headphones.
Everyone closing themselves off with headphones sort of defeats the whole philosophy of the open office.
6. Practice your desk-drumming.
Any of your weird little tics that were once hidden behind doors and cubicle screens—the way you drum your fingers or tap your feet restlessly, the little hums and tongue-clicks and exhalations you make when you’re concentrating/annoyed/trying to stay awake—that stuff is all out in the open now. Be mindful of the domino effect; your desk drum solo could be shaking the monitor of the coworker 40 feet away.
7. Hog the thermostat.
Just because you’re sitting closest to the thermostat doesn’t make it your thermostat… Stephen.
8. Work when you’re sick.
With the right software, you and your death rattle can work from home without missing a beat. Now that they don’t even have cubicle walls to use as shields, your coworkers will thank you for the self-quarantine.
9. Treat the bathroom like you’re at Coachella.
People are gross when they feel anonymous; check out public restrooms or internet comment sections. In an open office, people are less likely to get away with having three empty or half-finished Starbucks cups on their desks. Be wary of what occurs in one of the last places people do feel semi-anonymous; this may also apply to the kitchen.
10. Overbook the conference room.
Speaking of places to find a little privacy…
Everyone wants the conference room for important calls and big group meetings. Great. But some people will want it for any call, 1-on-1, brainstorming session or personal call to Time Warner Cable. If you feel like you need to get to the conference room to have a productive place to think or collaborate—in other words, exactly what happened in all those old-fashioned offices that you’ve now escaped—it may be time to make some tweaks to the rest of your space.
11. Chime in and one-up. Constantly.
This behavior certainly isn’t unique to open offices, but an open floor plan will surround your Penelopes with temptation. So many stories to top! So many conversations to forcibly join!
12. Take LOL literally at every opportunity.
We get it: you’re having a hilarious IM exchange or have stumbled upon a funny video that is just killing you. Laughter is perhaps the best medicine for a dull office. But people can tell when you’re forcing it.
13. Microwave your tuna melt at 10:45 a.m.
If you’re so busy and productive that you can’t afford to take a break to eat, there’s good news: thanks to technology, you can take your laptop/tablet/phone with you, instead of taking your chicken tikka masala to your coworkers. Open offices are particularly perilous because not only do you have to breathe in the food fumes, but you also probably get to watch the person eat it.
14. Get one of the offices with a door—and somehow make it seem ominous every time you close that door.
I worked with an exec once—no, not at Central Desktop—who would invite other execs into his office and then close his office door so, so, so slowly and inconspicuously that it wound up being super-conspicuous and causing a running “Welp, been nice working with you” joke.
15. Publicly hail the dawn of the Age of Transparency…then hold your own meetings behind closed doors.
If your open office was meant to usher in an era of open collaboration and transparency, you should decide early on whether there is an “except for senior management” or “except when we’re talking about the important stuff” asterisk.
16. Keep score—in weird ways.
Transparency has its limits; you shouldn’t know how often your coworkers go to the bathroom. And, yes, as one of the people closest to our office restroom, this qualifies as a “note to self.”
17. Leave your stuff everywhere.
This doesn’t apply so much in our own office, in which we have fixed seating and handy partitions, but in those really open offices, where employees roam like “Home on the Range” buffalo, you may encounter the collabohater who sprawls out across every available working surface.
18. Crank it up.
My wife recently bought me a pair of Grado SR80s; they are great headphones, but would be terrible in an open office because, as it turns out, headphones are not magical force fields that prevent other people from being bothered by my musical selection of the day—not that anyone is ever bothered by my musical selections.
19. Go NSFW.
Take it from someone who opened a link today about Nick Offerman’s hilarious and entirely NSFW head shot… proceed carefully. Remember: people are looking at your monitors (see #2).
20. Play the part of the Monday Morning Spoiler.
It’s great to bond with coworkers over Game of Thrones, or to make the most of your long commute by listening to the entirety of the new episode of Serial immediately upon its release. But without a depressing series of drab cubicle walls to absorb sound, it’s easier than ever for an innocent bystander to learn that [OMITTED] shockingly dies. Keep it down.
How have your coworkers driven you crazy, whether in an open office or not? We’d love to hear your horror stories, and hopefully help others avoid the same behavior in the future!