By: Revanche

Office Spaces and Productivity

September 5, 2012

If I never again have to share a communal restroom with
people who think taking phone calls, or even conference calls, while using the toilet is ok;
people who have trouble hygienically using toilets and then clearing up the evidence afterwards;
people who think that the bathroom – in or out of the toilet stalls – are the best places to hold gossip sessions;
I would consider myself a lucky lucky person.

If I never have to listen to pompous asshattery being repeated outside my physical vicinity but yet loudly enough to be heard, in Groundhog Day-esque fashion, on every matter under the sun including politics, religion, sex lives, how one really should fix that particular problem no really this is the undisputed way, oh I’m so very meta I was just being meta at you and you didn’t even know it, and personal discussions with family, friends and significant others, I might think I’d died and gone to my reward.

A graphic shared with me on the pain of the responsible, stuck working with the uncommunicative and the unproductive:

If I never ever had to go to another Team Meeting again ……

— A variety of people on why they changed careers or what kills them about their jobs.

These are the verses to the tune of People are Hell, I think.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the commonality, and frequency of, the restroom related complaints since I have expressed at least one or two of them myself. I was tempted to add one or two myself but refrained lest any of my esteemed colleagues ever recognize themselves here.  Heaven forfend.

They made me laugh a bit, not quite schadenfreude since the complaints aren’t unfamiliar in the slightest, but I suppose it’s the reason The Office is funny, right? Bit of horror, bit of comedy, bit of drama.

I read a recent study, which I can’t find now to link to, on open plan offices and how they’re not quite the ideal workplace layout once envisioned. People work with headphones to shut out their neighbors more often than not and they’re actually more stressful for people in general because you can’t control the ambient noise if people are randomly striking up conversations. The lack of privacy means that generally people will hesitate to discuss more delicate issues around their work areas and will have to find a private space to do so.

So many businesses, including most of my recent employers, have invested in just this sort of open plan arrangement while reserving the private spaces only for those at the very top and I don’t see them backing away from it as the human/intellectual-potential cost isn’t enough for them to make any real physical or policy adjustments.

For my part, I’ve always worked in busy, bustling environments and became very accustomed to ignoring people, so completely zoning out and creating my mental bubble without help is no hardship, at least until the conversational frequencies hit Shrill or Panic. If it does either one of those things, chances are good I should be tuning back in anyway.

Oddly enough, if I’m working at home, hobbying or real working, I don’t actually like the television or radio to be on – that is more likely to be distracting than real live people.  For all that I mock the dog for leaving the room when videos are playing, I guess we’re more alike than not.

Do you like working where you work or do you wish for a totally different environment?

24 Responses to “Office Spaces and Productivity”

  1. Quest says:

    I hated my last work space area ….. the desks were arranged in pairs, facing each other, so you’d be looking at your ‘companion’ across the table every frickin minute. No privacy, always en garde, vulnerable … that’s how I’d describe that mess.

    Had to laugh at the graphic …. one of my kids away at college complains of this very thing. It starts early!! The team, so far, has never worked as a team from what I can garner, with one or two people taking all the credit for doing nothing while one or two do all the work. The rest fall in the middle somewhere, non committal.

    • Revanche says:

      I’ve had that facing-each-other arrangement before, and blessed my lack of height for not being able to see over the monitor. 🙂

      Ahh your poor kid. I’ve learned from that and never assign work to teams larger than 2-3 unless there’s truly that much work.

  2. psychsarah says:

    I generally don’t mind my office, but if I actually want to get a long task completed (i.e., a lengthy and detailed report) I’m better off working at home where people can’t knock on my door (yes I’m blessed to have an actual office, likely because people prefer privacy when talking to their psychologist about thier concerns) because it takes so long to get my focus back on said lengthy and detailed report, that I waste most of my day just figuring out where I left off.

    • Revanche says:

      Anything to do with writing is nigh on impossible to complete with interruptions, frequent or not, I have found, unless I actually know precisely what I’m doing the whole way through.

  3. eemusings says:

    There was a Kiwi study awhile ago that concluded there are definitely downsides of open spaces (some findings here: http://www.idealog.co.nz/blog/2011/09/do-open-office-designs-really-benefit-creativity). I’ve always worked in reasonably open offices, and am fine with it (the only problem is needing to find somewhere to take personal calls, and listening to music over headphones often wasn’t an option for me due to needing to answer phone calls/frequent interruptions from people. Working weekends was usually the only time I could get away with listening to music for a decent period). At my current workplace, the 3 top dogs share an office.

    While I’ve always needed to study in a quiet environment, when it comes to work I’m good at zoning out stuff (maybe I’ve gotten better at blocking things out living with T, who always has the TV on). Noises that irritate my coworkers I barely notice (buzzing from the aircond units overhead, spurts of sound from the video edit suites across from us when they don’t shut their doors, etc).

  4. Mercifully, I’ve never had to work in one of those huge public spaces they stick people in these days. Heh…I think of those things as crazy-making sinks of infection.

    In graduate school we had six-person TA offices and in my first editorial job I shared an office with two other people. But we still had offices with doors that closed. Otherwise, my employers had enough respect for their creative and white-collar workers to provide private workspace.

    Working under the conditions you describe would drive me screaming nuts.

  5. Karen says:

    I work in an office of 10 and it is way too loud for me. It gets hard to drown out the high drama, other language constantly. Half of us wear headphones to help concentrate. Plus, the person next to you who yells into speakerphone (I hate speakerphone). I once answered my cell in the office and my caller asked if I was at a bar.

    • Revanche says:

      Oooof, Drama. And *speakerphone*?? When was that ever acceptable? I mean, we have to use them for conference calls but in an open space? Yikes.

      • Karen says:

        I hate when one coworker answers using speakerphone and it’s a customer (most of the times it’s used with coworkers). One, it’s too noisy in our office to do that and two, who knows what could be said that’s inappropriate.

  6. Kate says:

    Susan Cain’s book Quiet talks a lot about this. It really struck a chord with me. Unfortunately, the office elves in our building are busy transitioning the closed-door set-up to one with either cubes or a completely open plan- we get to choose! Unfortunately both options are terrible. At that point, I might actually vote for open plan- at least that way they’ve done away with the illusion of privacy, which is basically what the cube boils own to.

    • Revanche says:

      Yes, I find that with the completely open plan people are forced to observe etiquette in a way that they don’t with cubes. It’s not a huge improvement but even a little is better than none.

  7. Agreed.

    I want an office where if it’s open space, it is QUIET and RESPECTFUL for people who are actually working rather than chatting, being loud and being disrespectful by holding conversations via speakerphone for hours.

    Otherwise, give me a cubicle or an office.

    • Revanche says:

      I still can’t get over the idea of speakerphone outside of a closed room!

      • You’re telling me.

        Not to mention the loud, inane, non-work related conversations about their lives that no one (politely) cares to hear about when they’re trying to actually WORK and get shizz done so they don’t have to stay until 8 p.m. because of some loudmouths.

        It was so distracting.

  8. I have an office with a beautiful view, but it’s on a main path and students are always stopping by whether the door is open or closed. But in general, I like where I work.

    • Revanche says:

      A foreign colleague was advised that “closed door etiquette” meant Do Not Disturb once, and she apologized for interrupting me as she didn’t realize. I burst out laughing. No one, including the person who told her that, respects a closed door that I’ve noticed.

  9. Shelley says:

    The last office I had was a large, beautiful room in a 19th century building with views of an 11th century castle. Sadly, I shared it with two young men who reported to me. I wouldn’t say they weren’t considerate, only that they mixed business and pleasure when I needed all my concentration for my job. There weren’t even any partitions, just an open space with very high ceilings and very tall windows. The office was cold in winter, baking in summer (no A/C) and generally inconvenient, but cheap. The office arrangements were only one of a long list of reasons I thought the organisation was completely dysfunctional and I was pleased to leave.

    • Revanche says:

      The accommodations sound lovely, at first glance, but much like many of our well meaning organizations, apparently it doesn’t work out so well after a while. At least it makes our next choices that much better.

  10. spiffi says:

    The physical office space I work in, is excellent. I have an office to myself, with a door that I can close (although I don’t generally) and from my seat I can look out over the back of our office building green space – a park, with a pond and a fountain – we watch the ducks and turtles in the pond, and the birds – herons and hawks – in the trees.

    The *people* – ahahahah – overall they’re fine, but every so often I just shake my head – we definitely have “engineering logic” vs “real people logic” sometimes 🙂

    Every time I’m in a public restroom where the person beside me is on their cell phone, I roll my eyes and make sure to flush TWICE – I don’t even understand this concept of being on the phone while sitting on the toilet….

    • Revanche says:

      Hah, engineering *logic* doesn’t bother me insofar as the work itself goes. Side effect of being around programmers, developers/coders, and engineers so long that it’s just like a secondary language I can deal with.

      It’s the other stuff that gets annoying. You know, when it veers off the path of being work related 🙂

  11. […] a particularly evolved type of working stiff, reflects on the sociopsycho-ecology of working space in an entertaining rant at A Gai Shan […]

  12. Katie C. says:

    We have what you described in this post – separate offices that are closed off for the higher-ups and open areas for us on the bottom of the totem pole (me, New Guy, and the boss’s daughter when she occasionally works for us). Unfortunately, my area ends up being the place people congregate to chatter, which I don’t mind if I’m part of the chattering. But they often do it when I’m on a business call or trying to get something done. I’ve had to be rude a couple of times to get it through to them that this is my area and you don’t need to be in it. Heck, when you’ve got your own office WITH A DOOR, why not go in there to do your yakking?

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