Open floor plans have become all the rage these days, with employees sitting at tables across from one another instead of being trapped in cubicles. And while there are many advantages to have your team co-existing in the same space, there can also be some downsides to the constant interaction. Namely, distractions.

Ever wondered if you’re bothering the people next to you or the person across the table from you at your job? Well, if you’re doing any of these five things, the answer is probably yes.


1. Spreading Out Too Much

Between the photos of your family and your mountain of pens, it’s easy to accidentally get a little too comfortable at your desk and invade the space of others around you.

One of the few great things about working in a cubicle is that there are boundaries to show you where your space is and isn’t. In an open office environment that consists of just tables, that luxury doesn’t exist, and it’s easy to become that person whose stuff ends up all over the table instead of in a confined space.

The solution? Keep your desk light, and make sure you talk boundaries with the people next to you and across from you.


2. Being a Slob

Similarly, the lack of cubicle walls means your mess is out there for the world to see. I once worked a temporary office job where the woman who sat next to me constantly left her lunch plates and coffee mugs out for days after using them. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s definitely something that grosses most people out.

When it comes to this tip, remember that there is a difference between cleanliness and clutter: Most people are aware that your desk will probably be filled with papers and other work-related items, but they won’t be too happy with that moldy Chipotle burrito bowl that’s been sitting on your desk for two weeks.

Moral of the story? Be neat, and clean up after yourself regularly. No excuses.


3. Talking Loudly in Person or on the Phone

I personally think that this is a no-brainer, but I’ve been in so many situations where people have taken phone calls at their desks and proceeded to loudly talk with a family member, friend, or client for upwards of 30-40 minutes. Or, even worse: two co-workers spending an hour gossiping about another. Can you say yikes?

If you’re working in an open office, definitely see if there’s a designated conference room or phone booth where you can take calls or chat with others. If there isn’t one, leave a note on your desk telling people where you are, and step outside the office to talk or take the call.

It’s just the nice thing to do.


4. Distracting Others

It can be nice working right next to work friends or other people on your team; you can quickly lean over and ask questions, have impromptu brainstorming sessions, and cut out the need for too many meetings (after all, you’re basically meeting all the time!). But be considerate that you and your team actually need time to focus in order to do the work you’re trying to get done.

As a general rule, only interrupt someone sitting next to you or across from you if it’s time-sensitive, and wait for other times (like lunch or a designated check-in) to socialize or ask tiny, non-urgent questions.


5. Being Passive Aggressive

Are there things about your co-workers’ office habits that annoy you, too? Mark my words: Don’t be passive aggressive about them.

One of my favorite examples of this is when one colleague of mine would leave her coffee cup in my other co-worker’s table workspace, so that second co-worker would always put it in the trash can. Eventually, they got more and more annoyed with each other, and their issues became about more than just coffee cups. If someone had just said something, the problem probably would’ve been easily fixed.

Scared to tell a colleague how you feel? Remember that you don’t have to be rude when talking about an issue—a polite, “Hey, would you mind…” usually does the trick.



At the end of the day, surviving (and thriving) in an open workspace is about understanding the nuances that come with being next to other people all the time. Be considerate, think about how you’re treating others, and definitely don’t leave your lunch out for more than a day. Trust me on that last one.


Photo of people working courtesy of Shutterstock.