Office Space (not the movie)

I have seen two recent articles regarding work spaces that has me
blogging about the topic. The second will be discussed in the next
post but the first is a promotion of a “new” work environment trend
that seems to promote a direction I find so completely in opposition
from my own experiences that I found it farcical.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/marissafeinberg/2013/02/28/why-your-office-will-disappear/

almost 30 years ago I was employed by a company that saved office
floor space by going from two-man shared cubicles to four-man spaces
they called “bullpens”. Google “bullpen office” images and here are
two examples of what you will get:

 

The article states, “COOs will not continue to pay high electric bills
and real estate costs for people who use their space 30% of the time.”
Referring to the time employees spend in traditional offices. This
presumes that the other 70% is spent in the cafeteria, bathroom,
conference rooms and “collaborating” with colleagues. So their answer
is get rid of the office and only pay for the non-office space. Did
anyone stop to think about which time partition was actually the most
productive?

Does that look like forward thinking? The employer that had me in a
bullpen also had manufacturing co-located in an adjacent building so
one of the items you could requisition from the supply room was those
large bulky ear muffs that provide -30db of hearing protection.

I walked into a neighboring bullpen one day to ask a colleague a
question. He and his 3 office mates were facing the four corners all
wearing these ear muffs. I could have been a 40 piece marching band and
they would not have know I had entered. I walked up and tapped the
shoulder of the one with the information I needed and he almost went
into cardiac arrest.

Yes, it was that long ago that even the Sony Walkman was not yet
ubiquitous. So look at the second picture of the second article
referenced above. And see that the -30db ear muffs have been replaced
with +30db of constant distraction, lest someone wants to
collaborate.

Does that look like someone who wants to collaborate? When did
covering ones ears become more open to collaboration than an office
with a closed door? How do I politely knock on headphones?

But the same article has another solution besides the headphones. Here
it is

http://flockd.com/

a $5.00 pyramid that let’s you indicate whether you are available for
connectivity or productivity. “Flockd is an analog, face-to-face,
social media accessory” Again, is this an SNL skit? Make me a pyramid
that’s 200 square feet with a door and a window please.

2 comments

  1. Hello Martin. I am the author of the Forbes piece you mentioned. I own an open-plan coworking space. And I created Flockd, which you reference.

    In response to your mention about open plans being conducive to work, this is a design item that many people are leading. Turnstone makes beautiful, minimalist furniture so people have more personal space. Gensler has architecture programs dedicated to collaborative work. Sound barriers can be created. The transition can be seamless if done right with research. For example, Mark Zuckerberg worked with Frank Gehry to create the largest open-floor plan in the world: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2193864/Mark-Zuckerberg-enlists-Frank-Gehry-design-new-Facebook-offices-signalling-expansion-tech-company-despite-plummeting-stock-price.html

    And while someone with headphones doesn’t look open to connection, the point of the Flockd mention is that people need signals to be open when they want, and focused when they need. People must set clear, healthy boundaries.

    I appreciate these issues have provoked a response from you! Thank you. I would be happy to discuss these issues further.

    1. Marissa,

      Thanks for your comment and thanks for not showing any offense to my
      snarky comments regarding Flockd. I give you credit for your
      entrepreneurial success and professionalism. I am speaking from my own
      experiences in my profession. I have had some experience with
      movements toward open office space, and from my experience, the
      workers will find all kinds of ways to create a private personal space
      and eliminate the inherent distractions that come with such a space. I
      have seen first hand their creative efforts in trying to do so and the
      result is a compromise that does not achieve the privacy they seek
      and defeats the collaboritve open environment the office was designed
      to create.

      I have seen the Flockd device uniquely invented by employees many
      times (originally called the closed door) and it does not work. You
      have the self-important who will ignore the device when they want your
      attention. You have the overworked, introvert or anti-social who never
      puts his Flockd down. You have the opposite type who is always on the
      prowl for down devices and can’t understand why they never get work
      done. Which is more insulting, have a door closed in your face as you
      approach your colleague’s office or watching her upright her Flockd as
      she stares you down?

      Now I will grant you that I am from a different work generation and
      if I ever worked at Facebook or Google I would either have different
      experiences, or maybe, they just wouldn’t be in the first position on
      my resume any more. Maybe my kids want to work in that kind of
      environment. I don’t know. I guess I will ask them if they ever come
      out of their rooms.

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