Staying happy at work – top tips for survival in an open-plan office

20 March 2019

On average, Australian’s work over 2,000 hours per year. After sleeping, the largest percentage of our lives (13 years straight) is spent at work, so it’s no surprise that a work environment can greatly impact our day-to-day happiness. As well as having a significant impact on our overall wellbeing, one study found that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees.

One of the greatest obstacles to workplace happiness are office layouts. Whether you love them or loathe them, open-planned offices have undoubtedly become the workplace configuration of choice for employers, and are commonly referred to as the layout of the future. It is the work environment of choice for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but there is also a widespread belief by many employees that this office layout diminishes workplace happiness and satisfaction levels.  

Associate Professor Remi Ayoko, an expert in physical work environments at The University of Queensland Business School weighs in with her top tips on how to manage the challenges of an open-plan office and leverage the positive effects of this controversial configuration to improve your mood and wellbeing.

1. Be aware of your emotions and moods particularly if you work in open-plan office environment

Research published in 2019 shows that the mood in the open-plan environment is dynamic depending on who is in the office for the day. Your mood is highly contagious because it is so transparent, so if you are frustrated, everyone will catch on to this emotion. Of course, happy and satisfied employees have been linked to increased job satisfaction and well-being.  So, be a source of positive emotions and your environment will be less toxic.

2. In your workplace, keep territorial activities to a minimum and respect other workers’ territorial boundaries

In the workplace, employees may become territorial as they need to have control over their workspaces, which has been proven to make employees comfortable and less stressed.  While it is natural for humans to be territorial and protective of their space, employee territoriality is a double-edged sword. It is beneficial because it allows employees to express their individuality and professional identity as that motivates them. Nevertheless, employee territoriality may increase conflict when a workspace boundary is infringed. 

It has been discovered that people who are less territorial are also more collaborative. In your workplace, keep territorial activities to the minimum, so you are not perceived as uncooperative.  Remember you can keep several photos of what/people you are passionate about as a background image on your computer screen and change them from time to time. Make life easier for everyone in your office, be more relaxed, and don’t make people feel threatened by putting up territorial walls as you interact in the open-plan office.

3. If it becomes overwhelming in the open-plan office, use your break-out room, have a break or take a walk

Open-plan offices are linked with noise, distraction and lack of opportunity to withdraw from a negative situation or event. This becomes challenging if employees are engaged in tasks that need a lot of concentration to pull thoughts together. If it becomes overwhelming in the open-plan office, use your break-out room, have a coffee break or a long walk.

4. Reap the collaborative opportunities that come along with an open-planed-office environment

Open-plan offices are also linked with increased collaboration and communication. In our own research, we found that certain forms of open-plan offices provide more people with the opportunity to help new and upcoming employees. This results in helping your new colleagues to settle quicker on their jobs. Helping others is very rewarding for both the person receiving help and the one who is helping. Help someone today and you will make someone and yourself happy.

Find out how to keep your team happy, motivated and productive with our Learning to Lead short course, enrolements open now for May.

For more information: Associate Professor Remi 7 334 68145 or  Emma Pryor, UQ Business School Communications,, +61 7 3346 4506