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Your Office May be Getting in the Way of Your Work

800px-OpenPlanRedBalloon1If you’ve worked in an American office in the past 10 to 15 years, you may have noticed a change in its configuration (how things are arranged, including furniture and equipment). In recent years, large office spaces have been built to foster or encourage collaboration, working closely and productively with coworkers.

This has meant fewer traditional cubicles (workspaces with a desk and chair and high walls on three sides, without touching the ceiling). Instead, modern offices tend to have lower cubicle walls or open plans, where people sit close to their coworkers, sometimes facing each other and sometimes sharing one large desk area. The idea is that coworkers would get to know each other better, share ideas more often, and ultimately (in the end; as a result) produce better and more creative work. Not surprisingly, this type of office space also takes up (uses) less room (space) and companies can fit more employees into a given office space.

A recent study reported in the Wall Street Journal, however, says that open plan office spaces may not be helping workers get more work done. Open plan offices tend to be more distracting (for one’s attention to not remain on one thing) and workers find it hard to focus, taking more time to complete their work. The authors of the study say that the best type of office spaces tend to be ones that have a combination of spaces where people can work alone and places where people can work with others, so that they can choose where they want to work at different parts of the day.

I have never worked in an office that had an open plan. When I worked in an office early in my career, I always worked in a traditional cubicle or shared an office with one or two other people. Even with just one or two people working close by, I found it distracting hearing them on the phone or talking to a coworker. I can’t imagine working in a large space with a lot of other people.

Now, working on the podcast, I work in my own office and I can shut the doors when there is too much noise. Occasionally, I’ll go to a cafe to work, but I can seldom write in that environment unless I have headphones (earphones) in to block out ambient noise (noises around me). Even so, I prefer silence when I write or edit. I don’t think I have very good powers of concentration (ability to focus well when there is noise or activity around).

If you work in an office, what kind of workspace do you have? What is your preferred work environment? Do you like working in an open plan workspace or do you like a more self-contained (independent) space?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: OpenPlanRedBalloon1 from Wikipedia

14 Responses to “Your Office May be Getting in the Way of Your Work”

  1. emiliano Says:

    That is very good dear Lucy, very good knowing that as it is real life not a movie, as I have ever seen these cubicles and I have thought how odd are these
    american people working alone in such a small site without any touch with their fellows, that´s incredible here my dear teacher.

    All my life I have been working in an open space with several fellows, cowokers, round me doing each one their work.

    First time I started to work in the Bank we were more than a hundred working together in the same open space office.
    You may listened to everything that was happening beside you, the family phones of every one, the boss use to be also in the same space and if he or her
    have something to say to a fellow worker every one was watching it and some times listening everything. Yes, it was some how funny, it was like a second
    life to everyone of us.
    If a girl or a boy, man or woman, have problems at home you may know them and some times he-she told you about it.
    Mother calling their children by phone, working too of course, everything was O.K., and people made their daily work properly some times supporting your
    feelings too like a big family.

    In fact some of my good friends, and even the best, have been coworkers of the Bank, being just together doing similar work.
    Camila is one of them.
    I met her in the same site, doing the same or similar work like me, she taught me how because it was one of the most difficult Works I have done in the
    bank, so she told me about it and some time we worked together helping each one about the same. Incredible good work, good time, good friendshipment.

    I am talking about more than twenty years ago, twenty five more or less, and we remain like the best friends after being retired the both.
    Even Camila gave me a plant when we were close beside one to other, she just infront of me on an office chair, give a turn and talk each other about work
    or other interesting subjects of the moment. Such a good time, my God.

    So, what can I say about coworkers or small cubicles?. It is easy to know Lucy.

    Thanks a lot dear, I think you miss a nice good thing working alone……Incredible to me.

    emiliano

  2. Dan Says:

    Hey everyone,

    I have never worked in an office, but I can tell you that in a factory setting is exactly the same.

    I have been working for 26 years now and I experienced both the medium/small factory where I was by myself and the big one where I have to share with others.

    I can say I was far more productive working alone. If you only add one person you talk and that is waste time.

    The worst scenario is when there are men and women in the same department, that’s a disaster.

    Women are too distracting for men at the workplace.

    Personally I do not have that issue because there are no women in my field.

    Not that I have something against women, I love women and everyone else.

    I guess that productivity varies from person to person. If one is a slacker he/she remains so no matter what is the shape of the office.

    Thanks.

  3. Dan Says:

    It probably depends on the field one is in.
    For instance, on Youtube I have seen at a few videos of game developers headquarters and it seems they prefer the open plan workspace.

    If one is in a call center, it is probably better the cubicle. I am just guessing, that’s not my field.

    Think about the guys up to the ISS. they are workind in a field of zero gravity. Isn’t that cool?

    Thanks

  4. Dan Says:

    Little mistakes are always present.

    No problem! As a good soldiers/learners we will fight them.

  5. emiliano Says:

    Dear Lucy, I am reading again your note, it´s incredible to me as I have never worked alone, even studying
    I was always in company.
    Do I ever think I was a lonely chap?. I may know why, yes I know now now why I am so good being alone
    when I have the opportunity of being alone, by my self.
    It´s also clear why I have been so good in London, going up and down alone, doing which ever think I like
    and having in mind nothing by the full day only let me go.

    Yes, Lucy you give me light about what is being so much time in company, working, living (five at home) and
    so forth.

    So thank you dear teacher, you teach me English but also some auto-spicology, that is really good to understand
    oneself.

    My best. emiliano

  6. emiliano Says:

    Noise?

    May you imagine ten, or fifteen writing machines hitting by several fingers by hours?.

    People from the Street coming in and going out the Bank?
    Emiliano having a row of ten or more people waiting for me to change money, travelers, checks
    in usa dollars, pounds, or other differen currency?
    Speaking in English with all of them, people which ever part of the world who came to the Branch?

    Du yo see emiliano doing all the changes by hand, very careful to have not any mistakes as afterword my
    work they went to the cash and receive the money in pesetas?

    I made the change, write it in a paper, and afterward other cashier gave the mone to them in pesetas.
    If I have a mistake, making the change, writiing it, alfterward there will be a difference in cashing, my
    fault of course. Do you think I had not care about the subject, not any distractions despite de people, the
    noise, the conversations, the smoke from cigarretes so many different faces infront of me everymorning,
    having to ask them the Passport, signe here please, this signed it is different from the Passport, which
    hotel are you staing in Madrid?, and so forth…..

    Beside I have my own incredible beautiful work, one of the best at the Bank, foreing comercial bank
    businnes with Banks all over the world. Commercial letters of credit, avals, sending travelers to all diffeent
    currencies as dollar, frech franks, swiss franks, pounds, and so for till ten o more different divisas.

    Seven hours pased in a dream, and without feeling it I have to go home absolutely destroyed.

    So, please, don´t tell me anything about distractions because we were tweenty in the Bank Branch, even
    girls of twenty years or Little more. With nice beautiful tourist, from USA Sweden Hong Konk Iran and
    Latino America…..

    We have just a girl working with me, teaching her ow to work and how to helpe me Dan.
    She was very very good, universitary Young girl, that married being with me at the Bank.

    No, that´s not happened, we work hard and seriously but from time to time we talk if there was a
    while to do that.

    Yes, of course, if you don´t have any experience about something it is difficult to talk about it
    my dear friend Dan. Girls, boys, men, women, working together it is healthy and good, there are
    more ideas that improve the mind. Good friends if it is the chance or there is empathy and
    nothing more.

    Ja, ja…..you are a very bad boy my dear Dan. Don´t have those kind of thoughts…..

    My best Dan. emiliano

  7. Aécio Flávio Perim Says:

    After 54 years working I do not have opinion about an office. Nevertheless, work together is useful if every one is aware of their duties. After that time I regret not to have worked to myself and that’s why I am still poor. When you work to yourself the money you earn is all yours and when you work to another person or company you get only the tiny share. Not fair!
    Aecio from beautiful green and yellow Brazil.

  8. Dan Says:

    Hey,

    I have not read from Peter from Canada for a while.
    Hope he’s well. He’s probably having a vacation.

    Hey Pete if you are reading this I just want to say Hello.

    Thanks

  9. Lassana Says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks to Lucy for this topic, this is very interesting.

    Moreover, this study which reported in World Street Journal give me some interesting informations, because currently I work in an open space.

    The space is very large and we are between 14 and 16 personnes, that depend of the days. Sometimes there are suppliers which work with us on engineering projects. It’s sometimes necessary that they comes to work in our offices.

    It’s been about 5 years I work in an open plan office, before I had worked in a single office or traditional cubicle. In this kind of office, you feel sometimes alone, but the benefit is that you can have a good ability of concentration.

    Since I work in a open plan office, I feel fewer alone. I see more people, more colleagues of my team, we work more closely, it’s true. But I don’t find we work better than people who work in a traditional cubicle, on the contrary I think it’s more difficult to work in this kind of office because sometimes we are more distracted. The reasons are there is a noise when people are on the phone, also when people discuss about projets or private conversation.

    Where I work, we have created areas according the position of people. there are 3 or 4 people in each area. I am in the Project team and we are 4 in total. The other teams are Automation, Qualification and so forth. There are several office cabinets that allowed to separate each area. I think it’s a good idea, people feel better, there is more privacy, I speak for me ;-)

    Moreover, I think people can be more efficient and have more abilities to concentrate and share informations for develop projets in good conditions.

    Lassana

  10. Marcio Says:

    Hi Lucy,

    I worked for almost 3 years in a company where I had my own room but I had to work out of that too. Sometimes I preferred stay in my room in order to focus on my tasks. But nowadays I’ve been work in another company where the place are separated with low walls and we can see everybody working around us. It can be good or bad, depending of the day and in which job your working on.

    Thanks

  11. Henrique Says:

    hi all,

    I never worked in an office so I can’t say if it’s good or bad to work in open plan by my own experience.

    But I think it is. Google’s office are amazing, open space, freedom, toys, video games for the employees and they do such a great job.

    bye for now

  12. Val Says:

    Hi, everybody!
    Very interesting topic, Lucy! I personally share the office with three other managers. But!!!! our office is sort of a cubicle with short walls, and behind the wall we have other offices of designers and logisticians. And also!!! our office is with a through-passage. That means that all our collegues walks through our office all the time. This is really distracting. Everybody is talking, walking by and so on. You have to do many things at the same time. The most interesting part is that there is always somebody who come up with an interesting topic and really HUGE discussion begins because everyone participate in that.

  13. Pauly Says:

    Hallo, everybody!
    In the German company, I have been working for almost 15 years, we used to have offices for maximum 3 people. Due to cost saving measures, these offices have been unfortunately replaced by open-plan offices during the last couple years. It is really a shame. In these offices it is so noisy, the air is sometime really bad and it is very difficult to do your work in a concentrated way. The colleague next to me is sometimes so much noisy on the phone, that I´m no longer be able to do my work. I can´t understand, why our mangers have replaced these little offices. They probably save some money on the building costs, but I’m pretty sure, that the output of the employees has significantly reduced, so that at the end the company doesn´t save any money. Hopefully our management will notice that they have made a wrong decision in replacing these small offices.

    Pauly

  14. Ben Says:

    Interesting issue!Personally I prefered a more self-contained space.
    I have worked early in a large office space fitted more than 30 employees in my career.
    The ambient noise pratically drove me up the wall,like two fellows talking about the stuff they bought from the Internet,or a call from one’s girlfriend asking him have dinner together,or something like that.
    I can’t be able to concentrate anything.Without getting jobs done on time,I had to work overtime.This is pretty distracting.And Sometimes the discussion was so fun
    that I can’t help participating in it,which made me less productive or efficient.
    I guess it is because I do not have much power of concentration so the ambient noise is contantly disturbing to me