10 Tips for Success in an Open Plan

Photo: United Technologies Digital Accelerator — Dumbo, Brooklyn
United Technologies Digital Accelerator — Dumbo, Brooklyn

So, your office is moving to an open plan. It can be a challenging transition, especially if you’ve worked in an office for a long time. There’s some inevitable anxiety and uncertainty that accompanies a shift from a closed to an open office environment. How do you handle confidential conversations? How do you lead calls and host meetings if you’re competing with noise or distractions? Most importantly, how can you be productive and effective in this new environment?

Transitioning to an open plan doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, if it’s an open plan where you have a range of spaces to support focus and collaboration, you might even be more effective and productive. According to Gensler’s 2019 U.S. Workplace Survey, environments that are mostly open, but provide ample on-demand private space are the most effective and offer the best experience for employees. These environments provide areas of enclosure that support privacy and individual work, even while most or all employees sit in “open” individual spaces.

Open environments chart

If you’ve ever worked in an airport or hotel lobby, you’ve already developed some capability to work in environments that might be noisy or distracting. While you may not recognize it, that experience will help you adjust faster in an office that is more open. Here are 10 more tips to help you make the most of your new environment:

  1. Planning out your day – Without an office as your default workspace, it will take careful consideration to think about which spaces will support the variety of activities that you do during a day. Over time, you’ll develop an innate ability to seek out the space that aligns with your needs.
  2. Reducing your storage – We often hear from leaders how liberating it is to reduce unnecessary paper, filing, and storage. This a good first step to being leaner, lighter, and more thoughtful about the physical materials you need to be successful each day.
  3. Balancing accessibility and distractions – Among the benefits of sitting closer to your team is having more awareness of what’s happening in your group, being able to troubleshoot challenges, and more easily providing coaching and mentoring. More informal conversations may speed up decision making and allow you to have more influence upon your team’s work. However, those gains can come at the cost of your ability to manage distractions and being individually productive. Finding the right balance will take some time and will likely vary based what your priorities are each day.
  4. Taking phone calls in the open – Most, if not all of your calls today likely happen in a room. Conversations that aren’t confidential and the calls that you aren’t leading are probably just fine to do at your desk using headphones. It may be an adjustment, but over time, you’ll be able to more naturally determine whether the type of call needs a room or not.
  5. Having confidential conversations – Working in the open will require you think critically about what’s privileged information, and there will be an adjustment as you find the right spaces for those meetings depending on the topic and degree of confidentially needed.
  6. Using space to manage your availability – If there are shared spaces nearby designed to support focus work away from your desk, you can use them to get individual work done. At the same time, your conscious choice to sit somewhere else signals that you don’t want to be interrupted.
  7. Encouraging informal meetings when it makes sense – If your meeting isn’t about a sensitive topic and/or doesn’t have anyone dialing virtually, then consider hosting it in an open collaborative space, rather than a room. The more meetings that can happen in the open, the more available rooms are for the activities that really need them.
  8. Coaching each other – Everyone will adjust to working without an office and figure out the things that work for them at their own pace. However, if you see a peer struggling, share what works for you. Similarly, if you’re having trouble adjusting, ask a colleague how they are navigating the new workplace.
  9. Using this opportunity to strengthen the culture of your team – The more you can align this change to the goals and objectives of your team, the more it will resonate with your staff, and the easier it will be for you to champion it.
  10. Leading by example – As a leader, it’s obviously important for your individual productivity to be well supported. However, you also have a responsibility to lead by example, model behaviors you expect from your team, and follow the established etiquette and protocols. Being intentional and conscientious about your choices will have a positive impact on your work, as well as your team’s.

Finally, try new things and be patient. It may initially feel inefficient, but the more you’re willing to explore how the environment can support your needs, the faster you’ll determine what works for you. Some experiences may be frustrating, but don’t let them undermine your journey. Take your time to figure out a new routine. Your second week will be easier than the first, and after the first few weeks, you’ll have a good sense for how to best support your work.

For more insights into how workplace design drives employee effectiveness, experience, and engagement, download Gensler’s 2019 U.S. Workplace Survey.

This blog post was originally featured on