Over the years most of my roles have been based in large open plan offices where I sit in amongst dozens of other colleagues, all working away at a common cause… well presumably! As an Executive Assistant, I’ve always found it tricky working in an open plan environment for some reasons, but mainly because of the amount of time I have to spend hiding the confidential documents I am working with while being interrupted yet again by a colleague asking for something! I now work in a secluded corner of my office where I have my space and rarely have to worry about anyone seeing my work or sneaking up behind me, which is excellent. However, I do miss the connection with my colleagues and the banter that can make your day fly by, which does seem to make me some sort of office plan Goldilocks – I want a desk space that is just right! So do we survive the open plan office?

There are definite advantages and disadvantages to working in an open plan environment but as an assistant how do we survive this type of culture? Here are my Do’s and Don’ts:

Surviving the open plan office

DO: Have a clear desk policy, even if it is not enforced in your company. We do handle confidential documents, so do make sure you lock everything away when you leave your desk for long periods of time.

DON’T: Shout across the office to your colleagues, if you need them urgently get up and walk over to their desk. If you act like this, your more impolite colleagues will think it is okay to shout at you for whatever they need.

DO: Send an email to your colleague if they look like they are busy at their desk. It will mean that you won’t be interrupting and they can deal with the query later. Start the email with ‘you look busy, so I didn’t want to interrupt…’ Again if you conduct yourself like this, your colleagues should treat you with the same respect.

DON’T: Put up with the set up of your office if it is not working for your team. Suggest those that work closely together sit together so that they can discuss their work without interrupting anyone else.

DO: Get a confidentiality screen if you are conscious of opening private documents on your computer.

DO: Make use of the open plan environment. Make sure everyone sees your face and where you sit. It will help colleagues get to know you and understand how you like to work.

DON’T: Feel the need to share your personal life with everyone, either over the phone or at each other’s desks. Some of your colleagues just don’t want to know!

DO: Think about adopting some sort of sign that tells your colleagues you are too busy to be interrupted. This does have to be quite forcefully maintained for it to be taken seriously by colleagues.

DON’T: Sit near to the stationary cupboard. This might be tempting because you will be able to see what people are taking but at the same time, you will be asked where everything is without them looking for it first.

DO: Plug in your earphones and listen to some music when you need to block out the noise around you.

DO: Think about working for a few hours in a meeting room or a local coffee shop if you need to get away from your desk.

DON’T: Eat smelly food at your desk… a salad is okay, a roast dinner probably is not!

DON’T: Think that everyone has the same personal space as you. Looking over your colleague’s shoulders or sitting on their desk might be uncomfortable for them if you don’t know how they react don’t go too near.

DO: Turn down the volume of your telephone. If you receive a lot of calls, this is a quick way to reduce the noise you create. If your phone lights up when it is ringing, I would mute it completely.

DON’T: Hold meetings at your desk, book a room or go to a communal area.

DO: Join in the conversation with your colleagues once in a while.

DO: Think about where the office equipment is in relation to your desk. It may seem logical to have the printer near you as you will use it the most but again you will get colleagues asking you to hand them their printing or assume you will fix it when it has broken.

I hope you found my Do’s and Don’t useful; I’d love to know if you have any survival tips for our fellow assistants out there!

My final ‘don’t’ or at least ‘try not to’ is this… Try not to give your colleague a hate-filled stare when they have the flu and are spreading their germs all over the office… okay well don’t let them see you anyway!

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