Working in Open Space

In the trendy open spaces of today's tech environments, we need to find space for focused attention.

Open Space

Open space work environments are definitely the trend. We collaborate a lot in a product dev team. We need to sit together. We need quick feedback. We need to help each other out. Sometimes...!

What about the need for focused, heads-down thinking? Open space makes this challenging. I still have everyone around me. And they keep collaborating with me at unfortuitous times. :) And I can hear the other teams in the space collaborating. Wait, was I supposed to hear that?

Open space can sometimes feel like an orchestra pit of sound -- except the sound might not be sychronized or even related. What can we do to help focus?


You might be stuck in the open space and need some aural protection. Find a good pair of headphones. I use the old version of this Bose SoundTrue model, and they're great.

Choose a type of music that you work well to. Change the type of music if you find yourself not able to focus because of the music. Something instrumental and without lyrics sometimes works. Relaxing or thumping music might work well for you, depending on your taste and type of current work. Sometimes I simply wear my headphones as ear muffs -- no music, just sound barrier. My brain now automatically responds to the ritual of donning the phones, focusing more readily.

Move Around

Sometimes the open space cacophony reaches an uproarous din, and all there is left to do is leave. Find a room with a door. Schedule a conference room. Code in the kitchen. Move away from your desk to that nice chair in the hall. Leave the office, and find a coffee shop. Work from home.

Ask Nicely

In addition to responding to the noise in an open space by adjusting yourself, you can also ask others to try and accommodate you better.

I have been known to thump out a wicked drum beat -- on the surface of my desk, in an open space, lost in the rhythm ringing in my headphones. While personally enthused about my connection with the music, others cannot hear the epic instrumentals. They only hear my makeshift trap set, which is not that impressive. Slave to the beat, I am grateful to receive a smile (which can be hard to muster if you've heard me jamming for what seems a long time) and a "please" (which can be hard to form you didn't much care for my technique in the first place) in request for my silence. We can learn to gracefully ask for better from each other in our shared space.

What do you do to thrive and be more productive in your open space?