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Working out ways to cut out the office static

Working out ways to cut out the office staticImage Credit: Supplied

Open-space offices are becoming the norm as businesses recognise the benefits of team work and space saving. But for many who struggle in dealing with co-workers invading their sensory environment, these open spaces are a daily hell.

Because of co-workers' personal habits — pen clicking, throat clearing, feet tapping, etc — as well as the actual distractions of business phone calls, desk-side meetings and conversations, getting work done can be difficult for many. It is not that they don't like their co-workers, but simply their noise tolerance and ability to cope with distractions may be lower than others.

If you are struggling in a similar situation, productivity can be affected and you may find yourself under massive pressure to stay focused. This may impact your relationships with co-workers who are the source of these distractions.

There are many ways to handle this situation. Most important, don't do anything that hurts others' feelings or highlight to your supervisor your productivity is on the line if the situation doesn't change.

Here are a few ways that may help you get yourself more comfortable in your office space:

* Ignore it

Everyone has to put up with co-workers' occasional colds, complete with sniffles and cough. And you probably have some tolerance for these symptoms to run for a few days.

You may also be able to deal with an occasional personal call or conversation, but it is not uncommon to have one or more people who seem to always have one or the other source of noise.

If you stress continuously about this noise, you probably will lose your ability to focus. So one way to deal with these nuisances is simply block the noise. Train yourself to ignore the surroundings.

Easier said than done? How about noise-cancelling headphones? These along with some white-noise or soft, familiar music can help you block most of the surrounding noise and keep productivity up.

* Address it

No one wants to be ill or intentionally plans to be annoying. If your source of noise is a person with a habit such as tapping feet, making loud, long personal calls, you may just consider taking it up with this person privately.

This could be embarrassing to you and for them, and you may wonder if you just should send an anonymous note. In reality, however, the more direct you are, the better.

All you need to do is to tell the person you are sensitive to your environment and can be easily distracted by a small noise — mention a couple of examples that most annoy you. In addition, make sure to explain that you understand these moves or noises may be involuntary.

* Escalate it

If unable to handle the noise and attempts to improve the situation are not working, you must escalate the concerns with the supervisor or HR. Don't launch personal attacks, but instead mention examples of what is distracting you.

In many cases, HR will have ways to communicate such concerns without putting anyone on the spot. You may also find that the HR staff can move you to a different location within the office or to a private space — if possible.

It is important, however, to avoid making statements about your reduced productivity. Remember, negativity sticks, especially when it is presented as a confession. What you can do instead is explain that distractions may have a negative impact on your ability to concentrate.

* Lead by example

Sometimes people get cues from your own actions. If you don't make personal phone calls at the desk, you probably are sending the message that you don't expect others to do them.

If you go to the lunch room to spend your break, others may be encouraged to follow suit. Although none of these small actions guarantee the results you are looking for, they are more likely to work in your favour when you try to get others to respect your need for quiet surroundings.

Office noise

* Try to ignore distractions.

* Share your feelings with the source.

* Bring it up with management.

* Be an example for what you want.

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Source: Rania Oteify, Special to

The writer, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is a Seattle-based editor