NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Open offices are meant to encourage the free flow of ideas and can be great for group collaboration with teammates and managers, but they don't offer much room for privacy. Employees with open offices often find themselves holed up in a conference room or bathroom to take a personal call — or possibly retreating there when a co-worker gets too chatty. Unfortunately, even workspaces with walled-in cubes offer virtually no protection from a determined cubicle invader.
Thankfully, there are strategies to keep visitors at bay and preserve the productivity of your workday. Here are five nice ways to encourage sociable co-workers to pay someone else a visit:
1. Be honest
When you want to be left alone to complete your work, just be honest about that, says Mark Hemmeter, CEO of Office Evolution.
"Don't be passive-aggressive by putting on headphones or leaving a 'do not disturb' sign on your cubicle," Hemmeter says. "The best way to prevent this type of interference from recurring is to be upfront and clear about what you need."
There's no harm in letting your co-worker know, "I have to finish this report before lunch," or "I have to get this done for a client before the end of the day," says Matt Rivera, director of customer solutions for staffing company Yoh.
"It's perfectly acceptable to say you have a call to make or work to do," Rivera says. "After all, you're at work — you're not at a social hour."
If you're worried about hurting your colleague's feelings, you can preface the conversation with a compliment, says Steve Moore, director of human resource operations for HR and business consultancy Insperity.
"Let him or her know that you value the friendship," Moore says. "But that you often get distracted at work and it affects your performance, or forces you to work later hours."
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2. Ask them to do you a favor
"This one could backfire, but you can always try asking the person to help you with something," Rivera says. "If you know they're going to stop by unannounced, have something ready they can help you with — something they can take to the mailroom, a fax they could send, or have them help you organize receipts for expenses."
Although asking for favors constantly may deter your cubicle invader from coming around as often, there is a danger they'll feel like you "owe" them something, Rivera cautions.
"They may feel like you owe them a favor because they've helped you, but I think it will probably just make them less inclined to engage you. It only takes once or twice before they're less excited about the conversation that's going to ensue," he says.
3. Be a moving target
Unless your job demands that you stay at your desk all day, it's perfectly acceptable to get up and stretch your legs, grab a coffee or go to the bathroom when you see the cubicle invader on approach, Rivera says.
"Not only does this help you avoid interaction with this person, it's also good for your health," he says. "Just take a quick break — even use the opportunity to run into your boss' office to ask a question."
Pretty soon, your movement will be a "visual clue" to your persistent colleague that you're not going to be available for a chat during the workday.
If they manage to surprise you while you're still seated, then say, 'Hey, give me a minute, I'll be right back,' and go find something else to do," Rivera says. "They just want to find someone who is there so they can gossip. If you're not there, they'll get the hint."
Also see: How to Shut Your Noisy Co-Worker Up (Nicely)>>
4. Position yourself strategically in your cube
If your cubicle invader is coming over a certain wall of your cube, then consider repositioning your monitor so you're looking in a different direction, Rivera suggests.
"It's much easier for them to engage you if they're looking right at you," he says. "If you can't see them it's going to take a lot more for them to get your attention."
If you'd rather be able to spot your unwanted visitor as they approach, turn in a direction where you can see them coming, Rivera says. Once you spot them, you'll have time to get up and head in a different direction or hop on a phone call so they won't be inclined to sit down for a chat.
5. Ask to schedule a meeting with them
When your colleague comes over to your desk, very nicely let them know you're too busy to talk, but offer to schedule a meeting with them in the next few days, says Steven Raz, co-founder and managing partner at executive search firm Cornerstone Search Group.
"Say, 'I'm in the middle of a project I need to complete, but can we schedule a time to talk?'" Raz suggests. "It really weeds out the people who don't have something worthy to say. If it's something that doesn't deserve to be talked about during work hours, then the person will be more likely to drop it or maybe bring it up during lunch."
This strategy lets people know you should be "urgent" and "non-urgent" business matters, Raz says.
"It's all about setting boundaries, and once you draw this line in the sand a couple of times, people will know they can't just walk over to your cube and start talking."
— By Kathryn Tuggle