The workplace isn’t what it once was. In fact, these days if you have a screen and even some passable wifi you’ve pretty much created a mobile working environment. But that means that along with the freedom to set up an office anyplace, come the noises, smells, and distractions of an environment not under your sole control.
“With the proliferation of open offices and co-working spaces, people can find it difficult to get the privacy they need at work — whether it’s to finish up a project on deadline or just because they prefer to work individually, ” says Jonathan Webb, VP of workplace strategy at global furniture manufacturer KI, where he researches workplace trends.
So, how can you hold onto a semblance of privacy when you’re surrounded by noise and distractions?
While you can’t always find a place to call your own, subtle tricks and body language can at least lessen the effect of distractions.
If ambient noises or soundtracks you can’t control interrupt your flow, consider using a white noise machine. I pretty much turn one (or more) on as soon as I hit my desk and keep one (or more) going all day. Air purifiers often do the trick as well, just click on a higher setting since more power means more noise blocking power.
Meanwhile, if you’re heading to a coffee shop, you can take along your own white noise machine. For instance, Sound Oasis makes what they refer to as the world’s tiniest white noise machine — a pocket-sized version that you can carry with you and use with earbuds. Many phone apps serve the same purpose.
Sometimes creating the illusion of a separation can at least mute sound. So, if you work in a cubicle environment, adding cork to your wall space (however paltry they may be) can help absorb any sound. You can also add and decorate a huge cork tack board and use it as a vision or inspiration board — no one will know it’s true purpose is to drown out the sound of their loud breathing.
Adding a room divider or actual screen can also, at the very least, mute the full effect of the sound. Webb also suggests glass or transparent walls that can block sound while giving the image of being in a more collaborative space.
I’ve noticed that when I wear sunglasses, people seem to approach me less often, a great technique when I’m trying to disconnect in a crowd. Consider donning a pair of shades even indoors when in a public space. It’s a visual equivalent of a do not disturb sign.
If you don’t like the look of ear plugs, you can pretend you’re opting for style by wearing a stretchy headband — over your ears naturally and with or without soft flesh colored earplugs. While many people do wear large headphones at work, it can make you look too tuned out, so try for small and subtle at work when possible.
Hard at work in a co-working space? Facing the public areas can give the impression that you’re up for visitors or an informal coffee klatch.
When you really need to get work done, turn your back to the entrance or cube opening, it’s another subtle cue that you’ve got work to do.