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Quiet Open Offices, Gossip, and Chatterboxes

by Mary Isner / October 23, 2019

There are many articles out there that paint open offices in a negative light. I think the main reason open offices get a bad rap is because people forget to mind their manners in the open office. Speaking of which, it’s time for some more friendly reminders from Miss Open Office Manners. In this installment, I discuss library rules in the open office, the case for office gossip, and chatty coworkers.

Maintaining Productivity in Spite of An Open Office

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: Do you have any ideas for maintaining productivity in an open office? I just find open offices to be so distracting!

-- Looking for Solutions

Dear Looking: I recently heard about two different firms that have an open office, but they have agreed-upon rules to make working in their environments easier and more productive. Maybe they can help you! The first firm essentially has library rules in place. Talking is kept to a whisper and instant messaging is the preferred method of communication, even if you are right next to a person. If you need to collaborate or be on the phone, you must go to the private, enclosed space around the perimeters of the office. No loud talking, phones, or music are allowed. The second firm has something they call “no-talk Thursdays.” No meetings or open conversations are allowed. It is an entire workday of silence. As a result, they find that Thursday is usually the day when everything gets done. I thought those were two unique approaches to working in an open office that might appeal to some people. Here’s to a productive open office environment!

Gossip in the Open Office

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: I am a manager in an open office and our office has a gossip problem. I realize this can be a problem in all types of offices, but it seems to be a bigger problem in open offices since they lack walls and privacy to a certain degree. What can I do to try to rein the office gossips in?

-- Breaking the Open Office Gossip Chain

Dear Breaking the Gossip Chain: Interestingly enough, my boss sent me this article making the case for certain types of gossip in the office. It was quite interesting and made me think of gossip in a way that I hadn’t before. Let me sum it up: There are two types of office gossip: 1) networking gossip or gossip to pass the time or get to know someone better and 2) mean-spirited gossip that serves no purpose and hurts the targeted person. You actually want to encourage the first type of gossip. The friendly passing of information between two colleagues encourages camaraderie and a connection so that they see you as more of a human being. For instance, talking to a coworker about the new client they are meeting for lunch arms them with information they may not have had before, and may help the lunch go better. The second type of gossip – which is the kind you are probably referring to – is the one you want to establish a zero tolerance policy for. If this type of gossip is a problem in your office, I recommend taking the gossiping offenders to the side individually and explain that spreading hurtful gossip is something that will not be tolerated. And as always, set a good example by never engaging in this type of gossip yourself. Anyway, I thought this was an interesting way to look at office gossip; it is not all bad. Maybe have this discussion with your employees. Best of luck to you!

Open Office Chatty Cathy

Dear Miss Open Office Manners: I work with a really nice lady whom I will call “Chatty Cathy.” Everything is fine if I am at a workstation, but the second I get up to move to a different location, she seems to be right there and she just talks and talks. It’s hard to get away from her. I try to wrap up the conversation and she moves onto the next topic. Next thing you know, 15 minutes have passed and she is still talking about her grandkids or her poodles. I don’t want to be rude and I do genuinely like her (and poodles), and I think she is just one of those people who likes to talk…a lot. But, it is becoming a problem and I think twice before even running to the restroom now. What can I do to maintain my sanity but also not hurt her feelings?

-- Looking for an Escape Plan

Dear Looking for an Escape: It is kind of you to try to resolve this situation in a way that protects your sanity while also respecting her feelings. I had a similar situation when I worked in an open office, so I get it. My advice to you is to let Cathy talk for a minute or two if time allows. Then, say something to wrap it up and excuse yourself. For instance, “It sounds like your grandson’s talent show was great. I’ll catch up with you more later. I am on my way to lunch.” If all else fails (and I had to do this a couple of times in my situation), smile and start walking. That way, she gets to talk (a little) but it doesn’t interfere with half of your workday! Nonverbal signals can work wonders!

I hope you have found this week’s tips both helpful and enjoyable. Here’s wishing everyone a productive and polite open office work environment! Never forget to mind your manners, and for goodness sake, stop talking so much over there!

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Mary Isner

Mary Isner

Mary has a master’s degree in public administration and has worked as a facility planning analyst for Fentress since 2003. In her free time, she enjoys baking, decorating, and spending time with her family.