Crowdsourced Wisdom On How To Survive Open Plan Office and Deal With Interruptions

After Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow, spoke at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle about the reasons programmers prefer their own space it opened up discussions on the problems of an open office.

On discussion thread on Reddit people shared their experiences with open plan offices. Mainly the problems were noise, interruptions and never ending meetings.

For example:

  • “The foosball table is right next to my desk in our office. Like, 10 meters away. I feel like I’m slowly going crazy.”
  • “My desk happens to be about 5 meters from the entrance to the men’s restroom… The noises I hear all day…”
  • “I actually had a manager tell me that I wear my headphones far too much.”
  • “I worked at a place where one guy would shoot nerf darts at the interns all day.”
  • “When will it be done by?’ this question triggers me.”
  • “Headphones give me a headache. Earplugs disorient me. Office noise—especially scrum meetings or half a dozen people on the phone at the same time—make it difficult for me to think. Interruptions kill my productivity because it can take me 10-15 minutes to get back to same mental state in the code that I had before the interruption.”

Some also shared their ideas on how to deal with these problems. So we decided to gather this valuable information and share with you.

Here is a roundup of some of the most interesting advice:

“We all wear headphones not because we want to listen to music all the time, but because it’s the only way we’ve found to keep ourselves sane.”

industrial headphones

“At a big company I used to work at with an open office plan, there was this one guy who took to wearing hearing protection instead of headphones. Like 3M branded ear muffs that you’d see in a woodshop. Nothing says “don’t bother me” like those.”

office fire

“One guy I heard of had a sign “Only knock if you are on fire.” he would put up when he wanted to get peace and quiet to concentrate. Without fail whenever someone knocked when that sign was up he would open the door ready with a CO2 extinguisher and hose down the knocker with it. People learned quite quickly to respect the sign.”

Interrupting smth animated

THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULDN’T INTERRUPT A PROGRAMMER – This is taped to my door as a reminder to anyone coming to me with questions/problems. It still doesn’t work.”

Our own experiment showed that the productivity gadgets by Luxafor and ANC headphones minimize interruptions by 72% and both methods are easy to use. 

Do you know a better way to survive working in an open office? Please share your experiences and challenges in open plan offices.

Do you want to build and maintain new habits? Get your free PDF version of the Don't Break The Chain calendar and start today!

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