Managers, corporate executives and workplace analysts were once sure that open-plan offices were ideal for helping people get more done and interact with each other.
Since then, numerous studies have contradicted those views, including one from Harvard that found face-to-face time between employees decreased by 70 percent while the number of text messages and emails sent rose.
Not surprisingly, people also complain of open offices cutting down on the privacy they enjoy and causing too many distractions. If you can relate, these six tools could help you reclaim some privacy and enjoy improved coping mechanisms.
1. Computer privacy screens
Computer privacy screens work by only making your screen visible when people look at it straight on, not from the side. If you’re worried about the upward-mobility-motivated colleague who sits to your right peeking at your screen in hopes of getting details that could help him gain a competitive edge for the recently announced promotion, invest in a privacy screen.
Prices start at about $20 and go up depending on your monitor size and the desired features. Some accessories have anti-glare coatings or mechanisms that allow sliding them on or off.
2. The Compushade Visor
You may become fixated on a perceived lack of privacy at your office if the people who walk past your laptop momentarily pull your attention away from the screen.
Even if those employees don’t look at the screen content, your fear of the possibility could be intense enough to cause substantial distractions.
A Compushade Laptop Visor solves both real and imagined privacy threats by creating a tunnel around your desktop or laptop screen. Its extensions are on both sides of the screen plus the top. When it’s time to go home, the accessory folds flat on the back of a laptop. Concerning the desktop model, you can take it off for easy storage. (Priced at $29.95 and up.)
3. The Decodelia Chrome extension
Maybe you don’t want to invest in a physical accessory to make your screen content indiscernible. If wearing red-tinted glasses at work is a possibility, download the free Decodelia Chrome extension. It hides all the browser content under a mesh-like red shield. People can’t read it unless they use glasses with red lenses. You can buy some for $10 or less online.
4. The Hide Tabs (Panic Button) Chrome extension
The widespread use of open-plan offices created an entire market for products that help people handle the challenges of such environments. For example, the Busylight sits on a desk and syncs with phones and virtual calendars to automatically tell colleagues when people aren’t available.
But what if you don’t have such an indicator, or people ignore it and think their needs are more important than whatever you’re doing? Then, use the free Hide Tabs (Panic Button) Chrome extension.
Many websites discussing sensitive topics like domestic violence or sexual orientation have buttons people can click to immediately leave them if others come into the room. The Chrome extension works similarly. You click the extension’s button on the toolbar to quickly close all tabs. Then, click it again to restore them.
5. Browser-locking tools
In any workplace, people leave their desks to refill their coffee cups, use the restroom or duck into meeting rooms.
Unfortunately, the layout of an open office makes those absences obvious and increases the possibility that a co-worker might try to use your computer while you’re away. Even if they don’t have malicious intent, their attempts to use your equipment invades your privacy.
Prevent this situation by using a tool that locks your browser. Master Password+ is a free option for Firefox. It password-protects your entire browser or just specific windows. LockPW Free does the same for Chrome. That tool has other features, such as an option to delete your browsing history once a person makes a certain number of attempts to enter the password.
6. Chat apps
Another one of the annoying and highly common open-office problems is that the environments can be very noisy. Moreover, your conversations don’t stay private if the primary way you communicate with people is by shouting across the room.
Safeguard your thoughts, requests and general office chatter by confining the communications to one of the many chat apps for businesses. You might try the individual and group chats in Slack or go with Microsoft Teams, which lets you communicate with co-workers as part of an Office 365 subscription.
Maintain your sanity and confidentiality in an open office
These PC enhancers could restore a belief that your open office isn’t entirely without privacy after all. The fact you and your team members all work in one huge area doesn’t mean you have to share everything with anyone or feel constantly frustrated.
Image by Helena Lopes