Make an Open Space Workplace Work for You When You Have ADHD

Open plan workplace environments have become mainstream over the last couple of decades. For employers they are attractive because they cost less than cubicles or individual offices, and they ostensibly promote collaboration. According to a 2010 study by the International Facility Management Association, 68% of people worked in an open plan office setting and the number has likely grown since then.

Studies have repeatedly debunked the benefits of the open plan environment and.researchers have found that people in open offices take nearly two-thirds more sick leave, and report greater unhappiness, more stress, and less productivity than those with more privacy. The notion of improved collaboration was demolished by a 2018 study by the Harvard Business School that revealed open offices actually reduce face-to-face interaction by about 70% and increase email and messaging by roughly 50%.

For workers with ADHD it’s worse – the open plan workplace can seem like a descent into a confusing,chaotic,noisy hell. The constant interruption and distraction can make focusing on tasks doubly hard when you have ADHD to contend with, too. You may  not be able to get your employer to give up the open plan office, but there are some things you can do to mitigate its impact on your work.

Here are some things to try when you feel overwhelmed by your open office environment.

Wear headphones – Using noise cancelling headphones or just playing music through your headphones can be one way to screen distracting noises and keep you focused.

Go private – When you are working on a project that requires more concentration, find a quiet space like a conference room to get your work done.

Use signals – You can signal your need for more privacy and less distraction to your office mates by using things like color coded signs or desk flags. Some people use yellow and red to communicate a need to be uninterrupted for some period of time.

Talk to your boss – Let your boss know if there are particular things in the environment that are really causing distractions and impacting your productivity. In these types of discussions, it’s probably best to keep it positive.

Do some work remotely – The ability to work remotely at least some of the time, or when you have especially demanding projects, will likely depend on the type of work you do and the policies of the organization you work for. But it could help you be more productive while remaining connected with your workplace.

The open office plan seems likely to be with us for awhile. The cost and flexibility advantages for employers seem too compelling at this point.  But, by understanding how these environments exacerbate your ADHD symptoms, you can take steps to help lower the impact on your productivity


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