Top 10 Irritations in Open-Plan Offices

Welcome to this two minute HR Blast. In this Blast, we are looking at the top 10 irritations in open-plan offices and then focusing on how to create and manage a successful, harmonious open-plan office environment.

If you have worked in an open-plan office, no doubt at some point you’ve experienced sitting next to the office clown, a regular body odour offender or the person with the voice like an amplified foghorn! These traits are all often the source of much dissatisfaction and irritation, but open-plan working can be managed well, if you take time to get it right.

Here’s our top 10 open-plan office offenders and how to manage them successfully:

The Great Unwashed

Not an easy topic for any manager to handle, but it’s an issue that crops up surprisingly often!

Open plan working requires a certain level of personal hygiene from everyone. And if just one person fails to take this seriously, then it won’t take long before you have mutiny in the ranks, bullying of the ‘smelly’ individual and no doubt in due course a grievance brought by the victim of such bullying.

Don’t encourage colleagues to leave cans of deodorant around and don’t allow an insidious atmosphere of tolerated bullying and teasing of the individual concerned by their colleagues’ plus, in our experience, just dropping the odd hint is a total waste of time.

Instead, armed with logical and fair information/facts, meet with your employee and set out what your management problem is and how their colleagues are being impacted. Set targets for improvement, identify why this is happening, arrange to meet again daily/weekly until such time as the problem has been satisfactorily resolved.

The Slobs

These are the people who tramp muck into the workplace, eat biscuits over the keyboards, operate a filing system called ‘pile it high’ and believe that cups wash themselves by magic at the end of each day.

A messy or dirty environment is not generally conducive to efficient working. It also impacts on people’s sense of well being and comfort. So, sit down and talk to your slobby employee and create a plan of intent to ensure the problem is resolved ASAP. No excuses, no blame game, its time for them to step up and be responsible in a shared working environment and failure to do so could be considered an act of misconduct as long as what is required of them is crystal clear.

The Feeders

Often the feeders are some of the most popular people in the office. These people bring food in most days. They believe that food, in the form of pastries, cakes, buns, biscuits and sweets are the route to happiness and harmony. In fact it is the route to obesity and slobdom. Feeders need to be stopped. Their generosity and addiction to sugar is killing their colleagues. And ruining your health and wellbeing policy.

So, be clear to staff about how birthdays, Fridays etc. are to be celebrated and encourage those who like to feed their colleagues to bring in fruit bowls instead. And if they need convincing, why not get someone to total up how many doughnuts, muffins, cakes etc. are probably brought in through your front door each year. That figure alone might just make your point more strongly than any email to staff.

The Interrupters

These are the people who think a thought and then shout it out. The people who walk up to your desk, totally ignore the fact that you appear to be concentrating and who then just start talking to you about their problem. The interrupters are often considered selfish and lacking an understanding of how those around them need to be able to concentrate in order to get their work done.

A discussion about self awareness and impact on others may be enough to discourage such activity. Alternatively, you could invest a small amount in some psychometric profiling so that employees, in a non confrontational environment, can take proper time to understand their own behaviour and how that might be perceived by others.

The Loud Ones

These are the people who have naturally loud voices and who inadvertently prevent anyone else from concentrating, or being able to hear what someone on the phone is saying to them. The loud ones are often unaware that their voice is as penetrating as it is, or that their voice carries and, as a result, disturbs others.

With these people, the starting point is to draw their attention to it and remind them from time to time to keep their volume down. However if the response is that a loud voice is something they are very proud of, then you need to get tougher and talk about responsibilities in an open plan environment. Voice coaching is another option and just an hour of one to one coaching might just achieve the desired result.

The Emailers

These are the people who work in an open-plan office but who have lost the use of their legs and voices. They resort to email even though their colleague is just feet away and they don’t recognise that if you have an email chain of 20 messages all discussing who is taking a lunch break and when, it was probably more time efficient to simply walk up to their colleague and ask the question in the first place.

Some companies have imposed harsh email bans to address this issue, but perhaps in the first instance you don’t need to be so harsh and could in fact just raise this as a topic so people are able to express their views about being on the receiving end of a barrage of emails from someone two feet away.

The Desk Grabbers

These are the people who wait for a colleague to resign or go on maternity leave and who then grab the better desk for themselves. Desk grabbers tend to be viewed as power mad or selfish people. Alternatively you might describe them as focussed, ambitious and determined! They don’t like to wait their turn and often are very vocal about what they want or need.

As a manager, by all means take time to listen to what they want and need, but make sure to ask others too, rather than just give the desk grabber the best desk as they shouted loudest.

The Disrupters

These people enter the office with a flurry, they march up and down, they talk loudly on their phones. They also bring energy into the room, but along with it mayhem and disruption. They don’t recognise personal space and they might not be aware that some of their colleagues do not view them as the most important person in the organisation.

As a manager you need to coach these individuals so that their ongoing behaviour does not negatively impact your open-plan office. Raise their self awareness – be clear about what works and what does not work in an open plan office. Give them time to understand the impact and learn how to adapt their behaviours.

The Clique

These people like to form their own little tribe bang in the middle of your open plan office. Often sitting in pods of 4 or 6 desks, you find over time that one group of staff has grown very close and at the same time those on the outside are feeling somewhat isolated or pushed out.

Regularly reorganising who sits where will prevent cliques from taking too much power, regularly taking just one person out of a clique and replacing them with a team player can lessen their perceived power and influence.

The ‘Eau de’ Overwhelming

These people have no clue as to the powerful impact their morning (and lunchtime) dose of eau de cologne or Lynx has on others. You can smell them arriving each morning, you can smell them long after they have gone, and while they are around your nose twitches as though you are about to sneeze… and you know it’s bad when your egg sandwich simply tastes of lavender or musk.

As with all these other open plan office challenges, it’s time for the manager to step up, take a deep breath and tackle this head on. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away and clearly someone needs to say something! Show respect, but be clear about what the problem is and what you expect the employee to do differently.

Do you have any more of our own office irritations? Let us know what gets on your nerves! Please do share using the comments box below.

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The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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