How to cope with being an introvert in an open plan office

With a lot of jobs, you have to put in a certain amount of social effort. For a select few of us that can come super easily, and being constantly surrounded by people isn’t any sort of strain. But then there are the introverts.

For introverted personality types, the realities of constantly being around others while at work can be hard to deal with.

If you’re someone who needs time alone to recharge your social batteries and function at your best (both professionally and personally) office life can come with an extra obstacle. And one of the biggest fears an introvert may face when it comes to their professional life is an open plan office.

But sometimes, the perfect job may involve a higher level of social interaction. It’s such a shame to let your preference for alone time sabotage what could be an amazing professional opportunity. Luckily, we’re here to help.

Our guide to how to cope with being an introvert in an open plan office is full or practical and emotional solutions to anything a more sociable situation could throw at you.


Make Your Space More Comforting


In an open space, it can be difficult to find solace and feel comfortable. If you can add some homely, personal touches to your desk, you’ll notice it can instantly become more of a refuge in a busy office filled with people.

Even though you can’t literally shut the door on others, you can make your small space or desk and area where you can properly relax and decompress. Consider the sort of things which tend to bring you a feeling of peace – perhaps pictures of loved ones, souvenirs from trips, or even some green plants.

Making yourself a space that feels as relaxing and homely as possible, even in a busy, open plan space, can make all the difference. It can also help provide an illusion of control. For many introverts, it’s the lack of independence and autonomy which can be the biggest source of anxiety. Having a sense of order and authority, even in something as seemingly small as your desk décor, can massively assuage any worries or stresses.


Be Open


It can be a good idea to talk to co-workers about how you’re feeling. The vast majority of people will be very understanding about each other’s need for personal space, even if that’s not a design feature of the space.

If you explain pleasantly that you tend to need more time alone than other people, and that you don’t want to seem rude or antisocial, then that can help others understand.

It can also help your co-workers not to be offended, upset, or worried when you’re feeling particularly quiet.


Have An “Out”


It can be really useful to have a way to signal to the office that you’re in “do not disturb” mode without having to verbally explain.

If it’s ok with your office’s policy, headphones can be an excellent way to add a layer of distance between yourself and the room. You could even explain to your colleagues that headphones are a sign you’re not ready for any social chatter.

If you do this, make sure you also take them off several times a day, so your co-workers know you aren’t just constantly averse to conversations, and are actually making use of your alone time effectively.


Talk To Your Manager


In today’s modern world, there are many options for you to be at work without actually having to be “at work.” It’s well worth asking about things like work from home days, or flexi hours – especially if you can show how these would actually be beneficial to you working more effectively.

Explaining how you tend to thrive off of alone time, and having more options for a quieter schedule could help you both professionally and emotionally.

If you can get these sorts of bonuses in terms of hours, they can almost act as a respite between times spent in the busier and more hectic atmosphere of an open plan office.


Use The Space


It can also be a great idea to talk to a boss about the potential for using some of the more private spaces in your office for moments when you need some extra time alone.

While we’re not suggesting you should move into one of the conference rooms full time (as this will likely be massively irritating to those around you) it’s worth asking if you could book certain times in meeting rooms when they’re already out of use.

Taking an hour alone in a room in the middle of the day can be the perfect time for you to recharge and relax, while maximising your productivity.


Schedule Effectively


Even in a super bustling office space, there will be times when things tend to be quieter and more relaxed. Once you’ve gotten used to the space, you can learn when these times are.

If you have particularly gruelling tasks during your work week, you can try to schedule them during these quieter times.

Even if there’s nothing particularly stressful to deal with, knowing when these periods of calm and respite are can help you work through more overwhelming periods. Being sure there’s a small break from the chaos on the horizon can be an excellent psychological “trick.”


Break It Up


Utilising break time more effectively is one of the best coping strategies for an introvert who is constantly surrounded by people.

For example, it can be useful to ask about splitting your lunch break. If you tend to get an hour, you could split that into two half an hour break, thus breaking up your day with more staggered segments of alone time.

If you possibly can, it can be useful to ensure your lunch time is spent on your own, rather than for socialising, so politely decline any invitations if it’s appropriate.

And remember, if you’re ever feeling truly overwhelmed and need to get out, taking five minutes is always preferable to torturing yourself – and any manager with any emotional intelligence is bound to understand.

See our Introvert’s guide to university and 5 Job hunting hacks for introverts

By Annie Walton Doyle