Interruptions and noise driving you crazy? You can fight back.

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Employers claim that open-office plans enhance collaboration and “cross-pollination.” Maybe this is true, or maybe it’s just that they’re less expensive to build, but the fact remains that they are extremely popular. You may well be working in one right now.

Which means you know how noisy they are. Also cluttered. They may even be, at lunchtime, smelly.

To think people used to complain about working in cubicles. At least they had walls (sort of).

What to do?

Noise-canceling headphones are a popular solution. Some employers will supply them on request. Sound-generator or white-noise apps (often free) can also help to muffle distracting noises.

Another tip is to identify which times of the day are the quietest and try to schedule your most difficult work for those hours. When energy is high and everyone is chattering, that’s a good time for simpler tasks.

Don’t be afraid to go old school and bring in some plants. A “wall of green” affords not only privacy but extra oxygen, too. And some say the mere sight of nature lowers stress, enhances creativity, and boosts productivity. It can’t hurt. Your mental state may also benefit from regular walks or breaks outside the communal work area.

If workspaces are on a first-come, first-served basis, try arriving a little earlier than everyone else so you can claim a spot as far as possible from the kitchen area and restrooms. (Unless of course you enjoy the aroma of microwave popcorn and the sound of flushing toilets.)

You might ask your employer to establish quiet periods — set times when conversation, interruptions or mingling is discouraged. Once bosses see work output shoot up, they may even set aside some valuable office real estate for private phone booths or dedicated rooms for one-on-one meetings. In cases where management is just not willing to help, you can try instituting your own “don’t-bug-me-I-have-a-deadline” hours by putting up a sign or flag.

Finally, you should strive to not be a part of the problem. It’s amazing how many questions and conversations can be conducted silently, via text or group messaging tools such as Slack or HipChat. Virtual communication is not only less intrusive for those around you, it improves your own focus, too, because you can respond when you’re ready.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at