It's becoming increasingly difficult to find a workplace that provides privacy for all of its workers. With at least 70 percent of American offices offering low partitions or no partitions at all between workstations, many professionals are challenged to fit their own personal work styles into this new environment.
For more introverted personality types, the removal of barriers can pose a major daily challenge. According to the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Index, an introvert gets energy from being alone, whereas an extrovert gets energy from being around others. When an introvert is forced to spend his or her days surrounded by people, the experience can be draining, both on energy levels and productivity. But all hope isn't lost. There are some things an introvert can do to effectively cope in an open-plan office.
This is the top introvert defense mechanism I see in the modern workplace. In addition to shutting out the constant noise, headphones can provide a feeling of isolation, especially when a worker visually hones in on a computer screen to the exclusion of all else. One software entrepreneur even went so far as to call headphones "the new wall."
Workers are willing to shell out big cash to buy to the most comfortable and best sounding headphones made by Apple/Beats by Dre, Sony and Bose, among many others. Headphones have the added benefit of serving as a "do not disturb" sign, since co-workers are generally less likely to interrupt someone who has headphones on and can't hear anyway.
If you do choose to use headphones to escape, it's important to follow basic rules of etiquette related to wearing them. Avoid wearing them all day, every day, since this behavior could brand you as isolating yourself from your team. Use them to send the clear message that you're deeply involved in a project and need privacy. Also, avoid blasting the music at such a loud volume your neighbors can hear. Those not wearing headphones won't appreciate your love for classical music, EDM or thrash metal.
Make an Escape
Many open-plan offices have been set up with a few private areas for employees to use when necessary. But even if you don't have this type of dedicated workroom, you can likely ask for permission to borrow small meeting areas or conference rooms to get some privacy occasionally.
If your boss doesn't want to set a precedent by letting you work in these areas, working remotely may be an option. See if you can retire to a private corner at the local library or work from home a certain number of hours each week. If you explain that your job requires you to be able to focus without so much ambient noise, your employer may be more than willing to allow it.
If you spend most of your day isolated in your tiny space, headphones on, make an effort to socialize at intermittent points throughout the day. Whether you physically go around the office and speak with your co-workers or you just take off the headphones, turn your chair around, and join in a conversation, you'll likely be seen as a team player by doing so.
These bursts of interaction are ideal for introverts, who can go back to their offices or private spaces to reenergize afterward. Extroverts may actually have a harder time with this concept, since they actually gain energy from human interactions and have a more difficult time shutting out the world around them to get work done. Your introverted nature will allow you to communicate when you need to and buckle down and work when it's time to get things done.
Open-plan offices aren't without their drawbacks and it's important that workers find ways to be productive in this new kind of environment. By finding ways to tune out the office around them without sacrificing the need to socialize occasionally, introverts can prove they're just as productive as their extroverted co-workers.