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Liz Reyer: Making the most of less space at work

By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

QUESTION: My company moved and downgraded its workspaces from offices to small cubes for everyone in my grade level. I’m not thrilled, especially with the loss of privacy; what can I do to make the best of it?

ANSWER: Repeat “it’s not personal” as often as necessary, and look for alternatives when privacy is a must.

Acceptance is key; in a situation like this there is no value in resistance, yet frustration with an apparent decline in work quality of life is hard to avoid. Focus on letting go of any anger or resentment so that even worse outcomes are not created. Use deep, conscious breaths to help you remain calm.

Now take an objective look at the shift to your new environment. Consider the reasons that may underlie this change. It may be related to space constraints. Also, many companies are shifting to a more open floor plan to build collaboration. It’ll help to understand your company’s objectives. And because everyone at your level is affected, remember that it’s not personal, and is not a reflection of your performance.

Think realistically about how you’ll be affected. You’ll have less privacy, as you’ve noted, and less space. Are there other external effects? Play a little game with yourself, thinking about the worst things that could happen. Be sure to use words like “always” and “never” to increase the drama. This will help you get a bit more grounded in the likely impact of this change. Also consider positive effects. Will it bring you closer to colleagues and team members? Encourage you to clean house as you move to a smaller space?

Start with the most practical aspects of adjusting. Locate spaces that you can use for private conversations with team members, either in person or by phone. Conference rooms, lobbies or work areas, or even the cafeteria are all options. In good weather, getting outside for an informal meeting can open up possibilities.

Redefine what you think needs to be private so that you ease the stress of finding different locations, and don’t place extra demands on a scarce resource. If you have trouble focusing in a busier space, try headphones or a white noise machine to cut distractions.

For the move, think about the items that you need to keep in your office. If you’ve had a very full or cluttered office, this is a good opportunity to clean up. Consider if you have files that could be stored in a common area, if available. Keep your most meaningful personal items, or rotate a set of favorites.

Use the move as a way to build more social connections. Research shows that people with friends at work tend to be happier, so this may be a way to expand your relationships.

Finally, be a good neighbor. No more sardines at your desk. And accept the downsides — when it gets to you, return to your breathing and take a few minutes to relax and unwind.

Sometimes practical factors result in decisions we’re not happy with; make the best of it to maintain your day-to-day satisfaction.


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