Years ago I volunteered in the collections department of the Dufferin County Museum and Archives. I remember being amazed at how well the collections staff handled frequent interruptions that came with working in an open office space and being responsible for a small army of volunteers. Working in an open office situation or in a position that involves interruptions is something that is fairly common in many heritage positions. Roles that involve this type of work environment can take some time to get used to and might be something that many new heritage professionals don’t consider when applying for jobs.
You might expect an museum technician, collections manager, or archives tech position to be very focused on the organization’s holdings and not subject to so many external influences. This is true in some cases. But many heritage jobs involve multitasking, interacting with people, and sometimes working in the open. This is particularly true in smaller organizations where one person is responsible for a huge range of activities and might be jumping from cataloging artifacts to answering reference questions.
I like the interaction that comes with working in an open office and I like the fact that it can contribute to working on a wide range of projects and having more interaction with the public. But it can at times also mean it’s hard to get a chunk of quiet time to work on more detail oriented projects. Some of the strategies I’ve used to keep on track while working in an open office space include:
- Being able to select the type of work you’re going to do on any given day can be important. For example, if you know you’re going to have a day filled with interruptions pick work that is easy to put down and pick back up.
- I keep a list of ongoing projects broken into specific tasks. This helps me manage my workload but also is a spot I can leave notes for myself to remind me about project details.
- Know your working style and try to fit that into your surroundings. Quiet time in the mornings are very important to me, I often come in a bit earlier than other people so I can have a bit of time to get settled in the morning. This helps me orient myself for the day and get started in the right mind-frame.
- Communicating with coworkers can help a lot with finding the right balance of being open and accessible.
- Earphones are your friend. For music and white noise. They can also be used as a signal to others not to interrupt you.
- Having a separate space to take long phone calls or meetings is helpful. Many organizations that have moved to open offices have found that providing meeting room and conference room space is essential to open offices working long term.
Have you worked in an open office space? Did you like it? How has office layout impacted your working style?