Hugh Pickens writes:
Lindsey Kaufman writes in the Washington Post that despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country with about 70 percent of US. offices having no or low partitions. Silcon Valley has led the way with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisting famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers with a single room, stretching 10 acres, where everyone will sit in the open with moveable furniture. Michael Bloomberg was an early adopter of the open-space trend, saying it promoted transparency and fairness. Bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees, ensuring clandestine porn-watching, constant social media-browsing and unlimited personal cellphone use isn’t occupying billing hours. But according to Kaufman employers are getting a false sense of improved productivity with a 2013 study showing that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. The New Yorker, in a review of research on this nouveau workplace design, determined that the benefits in building camaraderie simply mask the negative effects on work performance. While employees feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction says Kaufman. "Though multitasking millennials seem to be more open to distraction as a workplace norm, the wholehearted embrace of open offices may be ingraining a cycle of under-performance in their generation," writes Maria Konnikova. "They enjoy, build, and proselytize for open offices, but may also suffer the most from them in the long run."
Some people work by talking. All day long they talk to other people, usually by conference calls, which for some reason must be aired on speakerphone. How they accomplish anything by talking, I'll never understand, but they must be very important because every place I've worked has vast swarms of them.
Other people work by thinking. Concentrating, often, on hard problems. Concentration that is constantly broken by interruptions, or even incessant background noises, like the guy near me who has to bounce a ball off the wall every 3 seconds while conferencing. (Yes, he's still alive, remarkably.)
I once read a post saying it is not realistic when they hold your calculus final exam in a quiet room. To realistically prepare you for the workplace, the room should be full of socializing idiots who wander by and say something pointless to you just when you about have the problem cracked.
Why oh why do managers put talkers and thinkers together in the same workspace? Do they have any idea that they are killing 2 or more hours per day of productivity per thinker? Do they care? Wouldn't they want the improved quality and quantity of output???
But we have evolved a culture where you have to "tolerate" everyone, no matter how rude. The only thing that isn't tolerated is to point out to someone that they are being inconsiderate.
So, has anyone found a successful strategy for dealing with the noisy workplace, short of complaining to the boss, which just gets you on the "not a team player" list?
This is a solution [harborfreight.com]. Just add a proximity alert for any intrusive people to get your own peace zone.
For that extra deterrence add target seeking water jet ;)
In a sort of fight fire with fire move, I've found wearing a headset and listening to something that you don't have to pay attention to the lyrics helpful, even better if it is without words entirely. It gives me a single sound source that I can easily expect and allow me to focus on my task. For me, I think it is the disjointed cacophony of unexpectable noise that repeatedly breaks my attention. Granted, working on a team makes this solution less practical when dealing with the fires that occur during business hours. But when I need to focus to get my head around a particularly hard problem / project I happily shut everyone out with my over the ear headphones.
I have heard tell of one workplace [zgallerie.com] that has its retail-store background music played in its office space. Headphones and things that look like headphones are forbidden, because the corporate lords have seen fit to provide for music at some cost.
Skin colored ear plugs that are really headphones? :p
Or just inverted-phase speakers on the desk? ..(connect to roof speakers or whatever skew it the same length of time it takes to reach you and invert the amplitude)
This wasn't my workplace, but it was (and I suppose may still be) in Berkeley, CA, USA. I suggested a trip to the gun store for some suitable ear protection. Bonus points for ear protection that suggests to those who see it that one could have also purchased hardware and consumables.
I suggest shooting range hearing protection.
(Pick something that's logo-free, and workplace-safe. You can get them color-coordinated, too. Look for something that filters out as many decibels as possible - the more, the better.)
Good for data centers, too.
To realistically prepare you for the workplace, the room should be full of socializing idiots who wander by and say something pointless to you just when you about have the problem cracked.
Ask a moron who thinks open offices are a great idea if when you get called for an emergency while at home, you should take your laptop and run to the nearest playground or day care center and sit in the center of a cluster of little brats. Because obviously that'll do wonders for your productivity, just like at the office.
Or if you flex time / work at home, do all your work at a bar or strip club, because some moron told you continuous noise and distraction increases productivity.
Aside from the primate dominance ritual there's a large component of "who will go along to play along no matter how stupid of a thing I say" and "who is the biggest yes man no matter how dumb the idea" and "who really buys into and loves the idea of doublespeak despite that term's historical bad press and reputation". If half of mgmt is below the median WRT ethical / moral caliber, its a strong indication you're working for psychopaths / criminals or at least the rate is higher than normal.
We have these stupid (sometimes twice) daily conference calls which are completely useless. Everyone around me is cursed with these stupid conference calls, so we have a standard procedure:
1. Put the phone on mute and speakerphone2. Turn the volume down3. Blissfully allow the blather to fade into the background while you do real work.
Since someone almost always is stuck on a conference call nearby, the noise just fades into the background like the HVAC unit. Works surprisingly well and we are all pretty happy with the arrangement. Much better than actual meetings.
I never really got the gig on the B ark crashing on earth with middle managers and telephone sanitizers until we started having these conference calls. Now the phrase "573 committee meetings and you haven't even discovered fire!" takes on an entirely new meaning. Some of our conference calls are numbered, and yes we have had 3 digit numbers on some of them.