When I started at Forbes, the bosses put me in a big, roomy office. With two other reporters. I liked them both, but the arrangement wreaked havoc on my work. I'd be concentrating on the legal brief I was reading, just about to figure out the nut of the case, when Tom would pick up the phone and start grilling a mutual fund manager. Then Doris would breeze in, fresh from her interview at Sotheby's, and grab one of two ringing phone lines. Sometimes when all three of us were talking to sources I thought my head was going to split open.
Who ever thought the shared work space was a good idea?
Plenty of office designers and bosses like it, apparently, including billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who favors a bullpen-style office with big, open spaces and no partitions. I can't imagine anyone can hear themselves think there. Though newsrooms are famously full of cacophony and confusion, I for one have never been a fan of unwalled chaos.
"I would grit my teeth," says a former colleague who used to sit next to a neighbor who spent the first hour of every morning phoning friends and reporting on her previous evening's party adventures. "I would hear her tell the story of her puking to five or six different people. I had to take a lot of coffee breaks."
If you don't want dental damage and caffeine jitters, says Stacey Jerrold, a New York City career coach, consider having a frank discussion with a colleague: "I'd say, 'Hearing your story once is bad enough. Maybe you could get your friends on a conference call and tell them all at once, especially after the nights you throw up.'" Hopefully she'll get the message and hold her personal conversations outside the office, on her cellphone. If she won't listen, don't be afraid to consult with your supervisor or human resources department.
Be sure you behave irreproachably yourself, advise both Jerrold and Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, a consultant with the career site Vault.com. Keep your voice down, keep your personal calls to a minimum and don't gossip about colleagues.
Jerrold also suggests you try negotiating work schedules with your colleagues. Think about your daily needs and when during the day you work most productively. If it's morning, try suggesting that you'd really like silence between, say, 10 a.m. and noon. Coordinate your lunch breaks so you're each out of the office at a different time.
Talk to your officemate about visits from colleagues, too. It probably makes sense to agree that meetings within the shared space shouldn't run more than five minutes. If your cohabitant needs to have a long chat, she should take it outside. Scout out a conference room and, if you can, reserve chunks of time there for work that requires uninterrupted concentration.
Image: First, negotiate
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