So we all know what open offices are nowadays. Walls have been torn down in a very Office-Space-esque manner. Most “modern” organizations are adopting the hip floorplan inspired by Silicon Valley supergiants.
Collaboration is key with these spaces and they are a departure from the boxed-in style of the old cube farms.
If you’ve been paying any attention to blogs and news written lately, you probably heard about the hullabaloo being raised. Things like: “Open offices this, open offices that. I can’t concentrate. I have no self control and don’t know how to politely end a conversation and insinuate that I’m working. Waah. Boo hoo. I’m a big fat crybaby.”
Ok so there was a UC Irvine Study saying office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and they take 23 minutes to get back to the point they were at. The same study also mentioned how workers would complete tasks much quicker after being interrupted. Probably due to our brain’s ability to work on problems even when we are not actively thinking about them. I don’t have a study to cite on that but yeah… sounds right.
Anyway, there have been a lot of studies claiming that open offices cost companies money in the form of lower productivity. Seems weird to hear this when paired with studies showing that employees have never been more productive than they are now, but whatever. People are worried about this stuff so I decided to have my take on it.
How To Deal
This is going to vary for every team so go ahead and get those people involved for a solution tailored to you. Here are 4 methods that have had a lot of success:
If you’re having a bad trip, just go off on your own for some solitary time. Of course, this requires space to be available for just this purpose. Ideally, an organization should always have 2 available conference rooms for every 10 people they employ. Empty conference rooms need to be a priority for times when an employee has to go on an important call or get into a cramming zone.
The employees on the endcaps are always the biggest targets for others walking by looking for a chat. That’s why nobody should be sitting there. Make sure there is an empty space at the end as a buffer to the employee diligently working further down the row. This way, every passer-by won’t be as tempted to speak to the person.
Make frequent desk changes as well. Rotate your employees at least once a quarter but ideally, bi-monthly. It’s not fair to have one employee suffer lower productivity numbers just because he/she is nestled the closest to the office foot path.
Music on PA
We are social animals. When we hear speech, it it nay impossible to tune it out and focus on our own silent thoughts. The answer to this is not a vow of silence, but instead a buffer of white noise. Set up a nice sound system in your office if there isn’t one already and turn that sucker on at all times. Regardless of whether or not you work in a call-center. You don’t have to blare the volume, but have it high enough that it interferes with your ability to hear the person 3 desks away from you. This keeps your brain on track without allowing it to follow the thoughts brought up by a tangential conversation.
BONUS POINTS: Make sure the music is instrumental. Especially if you’re dealing with work that uses words or code. It can be difficult to complete a thought if you are interrupted by thoughts that the deep lyrics of Rick Astley conjure up.
The Jacked-In Rule
This is the most powerful tool of any. You wasted your time with the other ones.
The Jacked-In rule works at my office and nobody dares violate it. It is a most offensive gesture to bother someone that has their headphones in. Headphones in == do not disturb unless fire. The reason it works so well is because everyone here has a mutual respect of the symbolic garment.
Why? Because we drill everyone about it before they start. Make the Jacked-In rule part of orientation and distracted employees will be a thing of the past.
Basically, until somebody invents the cone of silence, these 4 methods should do the trick for any open-floor-plan office. I was just kidding about the other 3 being a waste of time. All 4 of these work together to make for an adaptable office.
As an alternative we would have to go back to cube farms and I don’t think those are allowed anymore under the Geneva Convention.