Self Improvement

Stressed At Work? How To Relax & Focus In An Open Office

Tina Sieber 31-07-2014

Does your office landscape (Bürolandschaft) kill your productivity A Simple Productivity Guide for Everyone With all distractions that modern life brings, it's not easy to keep your productivity up. Whether you're an enthusiastic procrastinator, or just happen to have very little time at hand. Read More ? You can probably blame the Germans for its wide adoption. Although I hope we can reconcile after you tried my advice.


Whether you’re freelancing from a co-working space Shared Offices & Coworking: How To Become A More Productive Freelancer Working from home might seem like a great idea, but I don’t see it. After more than a year of working from various places of residence I’m thoroughly sick of mixing business with pleasure. Home... Read More or your company thought an open floor plan was a good idea, you probably realized that it’s exhausting. A shared office can save money, but only if you’re able to concentrate, despite all the distractions.

The Challenge

Scientific studies have shown over and over again that some types of background noise, like those found in an open plan office, can decrease your concentration, which makes it harder for you to process and memorize information. Interruptions by colleagues and constant noise can also cause you stress, resulting in high blood pressure and other unpleasant symptoms. As a result, people are less satisfied with their jobs and experience decreased motivation, leading to a steep decrease in creativity, collaboration, productivity, and an increase in sick leave.

Busy Office Building

In other words, German designers made something popular that ultimately made people less efficient at their jobs. If you’re still suffering from that poor development, let us help you out.

Coping Techniques

Get Your Colleagues On Your Side

Your colleagues are probably suffering just as much as you are. If certain things keep bothering you, they certainly bother others. Share how you feel, although be sure to not blame anyone. Instead, ask your colleagues how they are coping. They might have some great advice for you. Once you got the conversation rolling, they will be interested in what you are intending to do about it, which will also make it less awkward once you do it.


Change yourself

For example, if you have colleagues who keep interrupting you, the next time you’re having a conversation with them, ask whether they ever get interrupted while concentrating on something at work. Inquire about how it makes them feel and share what you’ve noticed about how it makes you feel. Next, ask them how they handle it and share with them what you’ve come up with to make it easier for others to see when you really need to focus.

In other words, don’t tell them what they should do, tell them what you will do to deal with the situation! And always be mindful of proper office workplace etiquette. Then your colleagues will respect your new ways.

Drown Out Noise

The noise is actually the most disruptive factor in an open office. While studies have shown that listening to music can be just as distracting as office noise, other research shows that some sounds can aid in stress recovery and help you focus. In other words, pick the right auditory stimulation to drown out the noise 10 Websites That Will Help Drown Out The Noise So You Can Stay Focused Do you find yourself constantly distracted by everything going on around you and having a hard time concentrating on what you're doing? The solution is noise-cancelling headphones. Whether you're in a café with a crying... Read More and you can really boost your performance. This includes nature sounds Free Music & Nature Sounds To Relax, Sleep, Meditate, Study & Concentrate [Sound Sunday] Discover a vast collection of free ambient, electronic, drone soundscapes, plus nature sounds, ASMR, and singing bowls. Many hours of free music downloads are hidden in this edition of Sound Sunday. Come inside and listen. Read More , white noise, and ambient music…and you can find lots of resources right here.


Noise Can Hurt You
To make these focus enhancing sounds most effective, you might want to try a pair of noise cancelling headphones The 6 Best Cheap Noise-Canceling Headphones That Are Affordable Here are the best cheap noise-canceling headphones you can buy at a decent price. Perfect for students! Read More .

Take A Break

People who share an office or work in a noisy environment don’t adjust their position as often as if they worked in private. Sitting isn’t good for you 4 Serious Health Issues From Sitting Too Long (And How to Avoid Them) Sitting too long at your desk or on your couch is a modern epidemic. Here are four deadly risks to a sedentary lifestyle. Read More and an increased physical strain on your back and joints from taking even fewer breaks makes the damage from sitting even worse.

You can counteract your natural tendency to literally sit through your job and set up reminders to take a break 3 Tools to Remind Yourself to Take a Break & Relax While Working at the Computer Working on the computer may not be very physical, nevertheless it's tough on your body. If you are damned to spend your working hours behind a desk, you had better find ways to do something... Read More , change your position, and stretch. Tools that can do that for you include:

  • EVO – Set it up to remind you at different intervals and follow its eye gymnastics intructions to reduce eye strain.
  • Big Stretch Reminder – Use this tool if you need reminders and instructions for doing stretches.
  • Breaker [No Longer Available] – Best reminder app if you have a busy schedule and need a tool that allows you to set up custom patterns for breaks.

Create Privacy On Your Desktop

Some of the stress and uncomfort of working in an open office comes from this feeling of being watched. Not only are you not taking your breaks, you are also not doodling or checking Facebook Focus! 4 Best Tools To Temporarily Block Facebook & Co You're not alone, we have all done it - wasting hours browsing the web instead of getting stuff done. Need a spike in productivity? Find the best tools for escaping social media here. Read More , which, if done in moderation, can actually increase your creativity and productivity.


Taking breaks can release some of that uncomfort, especially if you can withdraw to a private corner to check on your phone. You could also bring a laptop and excuse yourself into a private meeting room if you really need to focus on something. And maybe your boss will allow you to work from the quiet of your home once a week.

Privacy Screen Filter

If you feel you need more privacy at your desk, try a privacy screen filter for your monitor. The reversible screens come in various sizes, are easy to attach, and make the data on your screen visible only to the person sitting directly in front of the monitor — you.

The Situation In Europe Today

Atlhough Germans made the open office popular, it has since been disappearing. In the 1970s, the codetermination movement, which started in Germany and was subsequently adopted by its neighbors, led to legislation that gave workers the right to a window, minimum personal space, and generally promoted private offices. We can only hope that modern movements that are earning workers more freedom in terms of how and where they work, will ultimately lead to increased creativity, productivity, and collaboration. We badly need it.


How Do you Work?

What is your office situation and what helps you be productive? If you share your tips, you might inspire and help a fellow reader, so be generous with your comments!

Image Credit: K2 Space Via Flickr, Busy Office Building by John via Flickr, Change Yourself by BK via Flickr [No Longer Available], Noise via Audimute, Privacy Screen Filter by Miika Silfverberg via Flickr

Related topics: Breaks, Workspace.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Andy
    October 26, 2016 at 1:29 am

    I started off working in low cubicles in the 1999 and then was lucky enough to enjoy some high spacious cubes in the early 2000s. These days its been a nightmare with the open office environment. The truth is that it leads to DECREASED levels of collaboration since it is tough to have one on ones with a co worker when you are surrounded by 40 other people. Even the meeting rooms do not offer privacy, since the walls are made of glass. Hence I have started screening the companies that I apply to based on whether they have cubes or not. The irony is that many introverts become computer programmers because they are introverts and most introverts hate the open office environment. Collaboration is about 20 % of a software programmers job. The rest 80 % is a lot of thinking and programming. Whoever came up with this idea of open work spaces for computer programmers is an idiot - and that is putting it respectably.

    • Tina Sieber
      October 28, 2016 at 8:35 am

      Thank you for your feedback, Andy. Do you have any tips on how to easily find out about a company's office type? Do you just ask them?

      • Andy
        October 28, 2016 at 4:25 pm

        Thanks Tina. Usually websites like Glassdoor or the company's own website offer a clue as to whether the work environment would have cubicles or not. Other than that, its word of mouth feedback and then lastly the interview with the company, in which I nonchalantly put up a question about the cubicles.

        • Tina Sieber
          October 30, 2016 at 10:54 am

          Thank you for the great insights, Andy!

  2. Carol H
    August 5, 2014 at 12:09 am

    Tina (sorry about the delay in responding - yesterday was taken up with a 3 yr old's birthday party) - Don't really have any additional tips. You just have to try whatever sounds like it might work for you and then tweak it to fit your situation. We are all different so we all need different solutions to the same problem.

  3. Carol H
    August 3, 2014 at 2:09 am

    Tina S - Wish I could answer your question. I even went back to the beginning to see if there was something that sparked my attention. If there was I am not seeing it now but sure glad I read the article for that timer. And yes, I have worked in cubicles, private office and open space. They each have their high points and their low points. But I think I liked the private office best.

    • Tina S
      August 3, 2014 at 9:32 am

      Might have been the excerpt, which is not part of the article itself.

      Here it is: "Does working in an open plan office kill your productivity? You can probably blame the Germans for its wide adoption. But let’s reconcile after you tried these tips."

      Since you have worked in all these different work environments, do you have additional tips for fellow readers for dealing with distractions?

  4. Carol H
    August 1, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Great article!! Although I no longer work, I spent way too much time in front of my computer. Need to move about every 45 minutes and that Big Stretch Reminder looks like the perfect thing I have been looking for. Thanks for this article and the tips!

    • Tina S
      August 2, 2014 at 9:53 am

      Now I'm curious what made you read this article. Did you work in an open office?

  5. Norbert Lack
    August 1, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    So it's the fault of us Germans!? ;-)

    I thought "Cube Farms" were an American invention.

    • Tina S
      August 2, 2014 at 9:49 am

      Offices without walls and long rows of tables were an American invention. German designers took that idea further and created the more organic cubicle setting. You could say it was a destructive collaboration. :)

    • Joe
      August 3, 2014 at 3:07 pm

      During my exit conference with Human Resources I attempted to explain my reasons but found the whole exit process frustrating. Ultimately I simply admitted that we are not a match and left it at that. I don't know how much experience the HR individual had but to me it no longer matters. It is an experience I wish I never lived but I think this work atmosphere should come with a required reading of this article and other coping methods so each person is informed ahead of the actual situation. I did note that there were few "experienced" individuals (those that have a few gray hairs) except for supervisors and they grouped themselves off to one pod. All-in-all a good article for any working person to read.

  6. Joe
    August 1, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    I recently (Feb 2014) started a job (city in USA) which was in an open office. I was unaware of the particular configuration until starting day. The subject of an open office configuration was never mentioned and it was something I had never experienced before in 25+ years of professional work as an engineer. Pre-job interviews were conducted in small conference rooms which were accessible to the visitor registration/security desk so no opportunity to "see" the work place environment. I never thought to ask to see the work place where I would conduct my work. I accepted the job offer and began my work and quickly found I was being overwhelmed due to the amount of "new employee" requirements for self study and constant interruptions. My calendar for my first two weeks was 80% scheduled for me with meetings and training sessions. Simply put I was in information overload with no place to breath. After one week I could not handle the work situation. I handled the situation poorly failing to vocalize my intimidation with the work environment. While my supervisor lightened my schedule somewhat the training and meeting tasks continued to be overwhelming with no space to decompress.
    I wish I had the information in this article going into such a work environment. For me it was too much and I resigned from the position in only one weeks time.

    • Tina S
      August 2, 2014 at 9:43 am

      Sounds like that company had a very unsustainable hiring approach.

      Did you ever share with them what you shared above? You might have been the first new employee who bit the bullet and quit the job so quickly (good for you!), but imagine how many of the other employees are hanging in there and performing below their abilities!

      If this company realized how much it costs them to hire a highly qualified employee like yourself and then either lose them shortly after or have them under-perform, they'd probably invest heavily into optimizing their hiring strategy and work environment.

    • Tina S
      August 3, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      Well, it was certainly a good learning. You'll be better prepared for future job interviews, whether you're interviewing or hiring yourself.

      And thank you for the feedback!

  7. Edward V
    August 1, 2014 at 5:35 am

    This office is more beautiful than ours...

    • Tina S
      August 2, 2014 at 9:32 am

      What does your office look like, Edward?

    • edward victoria
      August 4, 2014 at 5:53 am

      just common cubicles without beautiful color! so dull

    • Nahla D
      August 6, 2014 at 7:38 am

      Same here! I'd love to go to work everyday if we had the same office like in that picture!