Peer-to-Peer: How can I protect productivity in an open-concept office?

Written by ProfitGuide Staff


An entrepreneur in Ottawa writes:

“We recently converted to open concept in our offices. We would like to implement a system to advise co-workers when someone is busy and does not want to be disturbed. We’ve heard of flags or signs being used but cannot find any info on these methods. Wondered if your readers could provide more info.”

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Reader responses

Suzanne Adams, Director, Pivotal Integrated HR Solutions:

“We implemented a flag system at one of our IT clients: red — do not disturb; yellow — caution, please speak quietly; green — all clear.

We also had ‘quiet zones’ where employees could work or have privacy for phone calls. These had to be pre-booked and to a maximum of two hours.”

Sabine Schleese, Managing Director, Schleese Saddlery Service Ltd.:

“We use the red dot system in our office — everyone is allowed one hour a day of no interruptions of any kind and puts a red dot on their door to signify this ‘quiet time’ (like the children used to have). The hour is the same every day for any particular person, and it is staggered among the staff so the whole office doesn’t shut down at the same time. The receptionist knows to tell callers that so-and-so is with another client (never busy, never in a ‘meeting’, but everyone accepts being with another client), calls go to voice mail, the phone is on ‘do not disturb’ and no one knocks (unless there is a real emergency, such as the building burning down or the like).

You have to discipline yourself and your staff to do this. On your voice mail leave a time that you return all incoming calls (and then do so, without fail); check e-mails only twice a day (would you open each letter if it arrived with the mail each hour?) and brook no interruptions in this hour. You will be surprised how much work you can do if you truly have one hour of your own time!”

Raymond Perras, Peak Performance Coach, Repars Inc.:

“On the business of open concept, I keep suggesting to my clients that they adopt the following approach:

For a group in a given area, establish a core block of time (90 minutes to 120 minutes) in the morning or afternoon when no one disturbs his or her neighbour. It’s called personal time or ‘thinking time’ and it is sacred.

When this procedure is implemented and everyone respects it, then people will have a sense of control over part of their day. The result is an increased ability to deal with interruptions at other times since the subconscious brain gets into the habit of focusing on personal or urgent stuff during the core block of time.

It’s a simple solution which goes a long way to enable everyone to master part of the day when they can be productive and uninterrupted.”

Crista Renner, Juice Inc.:

“In the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the state of flow is described as ‘a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption into an activity.’ But let’s face it: in an open-concept environment, the state of flow is hard to achieve when the printer hums, keyboards click and chatter takes place in the background.

In our environment, we raise and lower our ‘In Flow’ flags. They are an outward symbol that our co-worker(s) are trying to achieve absolute absorption into their work because of impending deadlines, or simply a need to achieve.

The home-made ‘In Flow’ indicator consists of a 1/4 inch piece of dowling, standing in a block of scrap wood. The blue-paper flag has the words ‘In Flow’ emblazoned on it in marker. It’s a simple, yet effective way for me to state, “I’m busy, don’t bug me,” without feeling like I’m stepping on the teams’ toes.”

For her answer, Crista will receive a copy of Make It Legal: What every Canadian entrepreneur needs to know about the law, by Margaret Kerr and Joann Kurtz.

Other questions.

Watch for another Peer-to-Peer Poll in the next PROFIT-Xtra.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com