Open seating workspaces aren’t what they’re cracked up to be
Open seating offices are all the rage in both Silicon Valley companies and across the globe, but for many, they’re a problem.
While proponents of the concept boast about improved productivity and ease of interaction between team members, there is a growing body of evidence that sheds light on some of the more harmful aspects of the model.
In this article on Forbes, David Burkus -author of the titles, The Myths of Creativity and Under New Management– takes a look at the various studies that identified some startling negative effects on the inhabitants of open seating offices.
The findings include a 2005 study from researchers at Australia’s University of Sydney that found:
The biggest differences between private offices and open-plan offices were in dimensions such as visual privacy, sound privacy, amount of space and noise level.
A lack of sound privacy received the most negative responses from employees in open offices. In addition, between 25 and 30% of employees in open-plan offices were dissatisfied with the level of noise in their workplace.
Perhaps a more surprising finding were those by researchers at Cornell University that found even though some participants didn’t report feeling stressed by the open seating environment, their blood epinephrine levels (a known stress hormone that fuels the fight-or-flight survival response) were measured immediately after a shift and found to be elevated.
Mindfulness practices can help you cope with open seating environments
For empaths like me, and for more sensitive Type-B personalities in the workforce, an open seating arrangement at work can not only be stressful in terms of over stimulation via noise and distractions, but it can mean that we need to take measures to avoid it affecting our productivity.
If you can’t alter your open seating environment at work, there are some mindfulness practices that can help decrease the stress levels surreptitiously brewing beneath the surface.
I’ll briefly outline those here that I’ve found most helpful:
- Seated Awareness Breaks
- Zen-Journal System for Planning
Developing a regular meditation practice
Developing a regular meditation practice can benefit you in many ways. Chief among them is the rewiring of your brain pathways that serve to defuse your amygdala and empower your cerebral cortex.
That’s a very clinical way of stating that meditation, over time, helps us avoid the fight-or-flight responses by empowering our cognitive brain centers and promoting real-time awareness. Increased real-time awareness leads to the decreased reliance on the fight-or-flight response to avoiding danger and an increasingly real-time, considered response.
As Austrian psychologist and Nazi prisoner-of-war, Victor Frankl once wrote,
Between stimulus and response, there is a space and within that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Meditation, over time, increases this space and fills it with real-time awareness thereby providing us with a fertile medium for growth and freedom while decreasing our automatic stress responses.
Taking seated awareness breaks
Seated awareness breaks consist of finding some solo-time and space (ideally) in order to get in touch with your body and your mind. In an open seating office this can be more challenging, but even booking a conference room twice a day for 15 minutes can be of immense help.
The 15-minute refresher:
~ Sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed.
~ With a focus on your breath, begin by noticing its cadence and quality as it enters and exits your nostrils or slightly open mouth.
~ Follow your breath for a few minutes noticing how your current mental state.
~ Shift your attention and note any tension in your feet, legs, and thighs; be content to simply notice it.
~ Note any tension in your lower back and abdomen, chest and arms.
~ Note any tension in your neck.
~ Rotate your neck from one side to the other; Note how your neck and shoulders respond.
~ Finally take three deep breaths, holding each one for a moment before exhaling.
~ Open your eyes and slowly get up.
The point of 15-minute seated awareness breaks is to break the chaotic stimulus input of the open seating environment for a brief period of time. Doing so will make a difference in your ability to concentrate.
It won’t make your teammates talk less,* decrease the amount of time you wear headphones or make the background noise less annoying, but it will give you a way to control what you focus on for 5-15 minutes in the morning and afternoon.
*You might even begin to attract others into your conference room thereby creating a small group practice which can be even more powerful.
Use the Zen-Journal analog system for planning and scheduling
Open seating environments are ripe with distraction and when it comes to planning and scheduling your workday, the chaos of your workspace can intervene. The Zen-Journal analog planning system can help you with this aspect of overwhelm and over-commitment.
The Zen-Journal Planning System is a giant leap forward in analog planners is that you can use any notebook of your choosing. There are no pre-printed pages and you’ll never run out of space (until it’s time for a new volume).
It’s most powerful distinction is that it empowers you to schedule tasks and commitments using a relevancy filter. Task relevancy is a key term in the Zen-Journal system as it’s meant to include only those tasks that are most relevant to your life on any given day. When tasks lose their relevance, they are eliminated from further attention. This results in only the most relevant tasks being assigned to a specific date.
You can learn how to use the Zen-Journal system -and how it takes advantage of and seamlessly integrates with you digital devices- by subscribing and downloading the free set-up guide.
The Zen-Journal Planning System, when added to your daily meditation practice and scheduled seated awareness breaks, can add a powerful element to your defense against the dysfunction of the open office seating arrangements.
Mindfulness may be the only solution for working in an open seating environment
As I demonstrated in the first few paragraphs in this post, open seating environments can actually be harmful to those forced to work within them. They contribute to a lack of privacy and feelings of distrust. It isn’t the most conducive environment for taping into your most meaningful work, either.
Mindfulness practices may well be the most powerful tool in your workforce survival toolkit. Your employer isn’t likely to change the open seating arrangement in your department or on your floor, but as suggested above, incorporating mindfulness practices into your workday can give you a powerful tool to not only interrupt the chaos of the environment but provide you with a considered response that increases the space between the stimulus of the environment and a considered response.