The modern office era has seen a new, experimental focus on productivity. A century prior, productivity could be seen, felt, and even smelled in the form of relentless manufacturing and tangible commodities. Something more resembling our current concept of productivity was gestated in the 1990’s Europe: computer hackers found it useful to share office space and cowork to exchange programming tips and practices.
More aboveboard shared office spaces have their roots in the early 2000s and have been growing in popularity ever since. Coworking spaces have nearly doubled each year from 2006 to 2015, and for many good reasons. As our vision of labor and productivity morphs with time, so do our workspaces. The shape of many offices are bending towards a focus on worker autonomy as well as the office community.
Take the time to pay attention to yourself and what conditions help you thrive, and use your workplace accordingly!
Enjoy The “Me” And The “We”
Humans are social animals, but this doesn’t mean we feel like being chummy all the time–especially while working. A benefit of many shared office spaces is recognizing the usefulness of both alone time and social time. These uses are not mutually exclusive, either; even when you are working by yourself in a quiet part of the office, there is a certain motivation to feeling like you’re part of the flock and pacing yourself with others.
The fact that social interaction happens naturally, not compulsorily, within an open-concept office is key. Fostering a sense of community within an office is healthy and stimulating. Simultaneously, having space for lone, peaceful work is useful and necessary.
Ask yourself: What place does social interaction have in your work process? Everyone is different in this regard. Perhaps you benefit from bouncing ideas off of your colleagues or blowing off steam with them in between brainstorming sessions.
Maybe you can really get into “the zone” when you’re in your own space, or decompress and process information better when by yourself. You might even feel differently about these things depending on what day it is or what work you are doing. Also, different companies will have different preferences.
Design your office workplace
Aesthetics and acoustics are elements absolutely everywhere and yet have long been neglected in the workplace. In the past, offices were notorious for a cold lack of any interior design. There was a misguided idea in business that streamlining space would streamline work. Today, shared offices take a more human approach to workspaces.
The relationship between output and input is a symbiotic one–utilitarian offices produce perfunctory, uninspired work. These days, there is an acknowledgment that crafting an aspirational, congenial space makes for aspirational, congenial workers. Depending on the company, you may only have so much say on the feng shui of the place. However, there are still steps you can take to curate the desks or rooms or offices you operate from.
De-cluttering your shared office space
Eliminating clutter is a big one. Are you hauling around the books you’ve been meaning to finish to work? When you’re looking for your notes, are you shuffling through old receipts and obsolete reminders too? Try to limit the objects on your desk to ones that are of immediate use to your current goal. Look around and see if other things act as visual disruptions, too.
Maybe being seated near a window helps you feel more free and relaxed, or maybe it is distracting. It doesn’t all have to be about paring things down, though.
A positive addition to your space might be a photo or message that motivates you. You could also find out about other potential pleasantries for your office–a plant you like, a minifridge. Think pleasant, but not diverting.
Acoustic elements of the shared office space
These same concepts apply to the audial elements of your office. It might be beneficial for you to bring in a pair of earphones from home. Listening to the right kind of music may help get you into a workflow; or, if you find yourself jamming out too hard, you can listen to white noise or acquire noise-blocking headphones.
The office may also be susceptible to street noise, especially if located near busy traffic or Sisyphean construction efforts. If the building itself has a din of sound pollution, you can look into sound-absorbing acoustic panels to block noise and improve the workplace ambiance. Many acoustic panels can also be fabric-wrapped with finishes or artwork of your choice for an added aesthetic benefit.
Set Personal Goals
Structuring your workflow doesn’t have to look like an army regiment. In fact, it may be better to keep things a little loose with exactly when and how you operate throughout the day, as long as you stick to a core set of goals. Here is a tip: taking breaks should be a goal too. Working relentlessly causes burnout, such as “decision fatigue,” a term coined by psychologists that describes how our ability to make decisions and clearly think degrades throughout the day.
It is fine to pause a bit
According to a variety of studies, the cycle of focus to fatigue tends to average around 30 to 90 minutes. Studies have also shown that it’s not only helpful but important to take short, 5 to 20-minute breaks as you feel your attention span starting to winnow. Additionally, it’s important to take longer breaks (at least 30 minutes) every 2 to 4 hours.
So, with a roomy pattern set for when not to work, what about the work part? The first step is to be realistic with your expectations. Many workspaces are open 24/7, but this doesn’t mean you should plan for a 16-hour day when a deadline starts to loom. You are more likely to be productive and hit goals when you don’t have lofty, unreasonable expectations set on your shoulders. A higher-quality output will also inspire more confidence than a higher quantity.
Help from office coworkers
As mentioned previously, coworkers can also be helpful in this arena. Talking to people on your breaks can help clean up your mind and reinvigorate you. Keeping your voice level considerate of others working nearby will help keep the occasional, brief chat from being disruptive. When actively working, being around coworkers may help you calibrate your pace and feel inspired to keep up.
Continue to hike your own hike, though–comparison is only useful up to a fault. Organize and prioritize your objectives, and make a to-do list for that day. Stick to your priorities, and feel comfortable in the knowledge that it’s okay if you don’t build Rome in a day. It’s easier to feel motivated and enjoy your work when you have a solid grasp on your game plan.
Go forth and cowork!
Our concept of labor and workspaces is evolving, and you can be part of that. Shared offices provide the opportunity for harmony between the practical and the comfortable, occasionally blending these two concepts into one. Discover the benefits of being proactive over your workspace and workflow.
Experiment with what balance of social interaction, what inputs and outputs, what environments and patterns motivate you to your best. Pay attention to what keeps you focused and what doesn’t, and pay attention to when you need to unfocus and rest your cranium.