Getting Snuck Up On

When I was a kid, my family went on a trip from the Twin Cities of Minnesota to the Black Hills of South Dakota. When we got there, we stopped in Deadwood, at the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was shot dead. They told us he never sat with his back to the door. Until. That. Day.

So I’m currently working in a modern-day saloon, aka a startup with an open-office layout. I had never worked in an open office before, and from a distance it looked really social and energetic. And it is… but it also feels dangerous.

Here’s my office setup: I sit in a tiny room with two other people, facing a wall, with my back exposed both to them, and to anyone who walks in. The good: I really like my two officemates, who are both kind, smart, hilarious people. The bad: I feel vulnerable all the time, because while I’m facing the wall, something in my brain keeps warning me that anyone could sneak up behind me at any moment. Over-and-over-and-over.

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There are plenty of articles out there about how the open-office layout phenomenon, which is supposed to be great for collaboration and cost-savings, is actually pretty terrible for concentration and feelings of well-being

I understand why my office is currently set up the way it is, and I’m sure things will change over time as the company grows. I’m not writing just to vent about it. I’m writing this because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the physicality of the fight-or-flight feeling I have while trying to work in this situation. It’s definitely more in my body than in my mind.

The weird thing is feeling like this even though coworkers rarely come up behind me. Obviously they aren’t trying to jump out and scare me. I just can’t shake the physical fear that they MIGHT. I can feel it across my back and in my shoulders, like my body is constantly warning me that I am incorrectly positioned in the room and need to turn around.

I’ve had conversations with other coworkers about this, and I’ve been surprised by how strongly we feel the same sensation. I understand the protective biological origin, but I really wish I could turn it off somehow! If you work in an open office, or you sit facing a wall, do you feel it too? How do you deal with it, other than trying to find other places to sit?

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