I once worked in an office with an open floor plan. It was me and my co-workers, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, staring across our little cubicles. My first day I nervously sat at my desk and peeked around at the engrossed people around me. Everyone sat in front of their screens, furiously typing, hunched over a phone, or angling their chairs in a way to best avoid accidental eye contact with someone else.
That first day I left the office with a bad headache and feeling more than a little deflated about my environment.
No one was rude or mean. When I talked to people they took the time to smile. Everyone was very polite. And professional.
They were just busy. And it made the atmosphere of the office feel…tense. I couldn’t imagine spending 40 hours a week in such rigid surroundings.
Something had to break. It was either going to be me or them and I decided right then it wasn’t going to be me.
So I started a little experiment.
Over the next couple of weeks I strategically began my mission to create a counterculture in the area surrounding my cubicle. The crazy thing was it worked.
Here are the 7 tactics I used to change my office’s atmosphere without having a leadership position.
#1 Be the change you want to see.
I was determined not to fall into the present culture. I behaved in the way I wished the rest of my coworkers would behave and eventually people began to notice. In fact, they eventually began mirroring some of those same behaviors.
Sometimes the only way to start a revolution is to change yourself. Is the atmosphere at work cold, competitive, and boring? Break the pattern. Smile at others, initiate conversations, sacrifice your time, build bridges.
#2 Offer to help.
You’d be surprised how often offering a hand improves the moods of your coworkers.
For my office, I realized the feeling of tension was caused by an overwhelming workload. I figured if I helped to relieve some of that stress it would ease that sense of heaviness. So I offered to help. Big or small, there was no task I wasn’t ready to tackle. I would purposely eavesdrop on my nearest coworkers to hear if they needed anything. If I heard someone complain about the huge amount of marketing emails they had to send to new clients, I would pop my head over the cubicle wall and ask if I could do the data entry while they worked on the content.
I took out trash, picked up lunches, helped push carts, and printed invoices for a coworker whose printer stalled.
Was it a little inconvenient?
Was it effective?
In fact, this ended up being the most effective weapon in my arsenal.
The reason I was able to help was because I was listening for opportunities. I’ll admit it. I was nosey.
Complete disregard for the old adage, “Mind your own business.”
I made my coworker’s issues, my business. And it payed off.
I’m not talking about listening for gossip, or prying into people’s personal business. But, it’s incredible the things you’ll pick up if you’re paying attention. Little cues and phrases that are actually signals for help or a listening ear.
Sometimes people just need to vent. Being a safe person where your coworkers can voice frustration, concerns, and anxieties, without fear of you gossiping about them or making them feel bad is invaluable.
I’ll be posting the other 4 tactics next week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your stories of how you’ve shifted the culture in your office, class, or home!