Open plan vs. open to distractions


archive image from Life magazine, hosted by google

Sam Leith in today’s Guardian has written about her experiences working in an open plan office – in essence, an ethnographic study of territorial anxiety and opportunities to acquire cake and gossip.

Sitting in our very open plan, very noisy office, trying to avoid the siren call of the chocolate chip cookies two desks down, it reminded me of everything I’ve written before about Creative Spaces.  Working where you work best (and the acknowledgement that people rarely produce their best work surrounded by strip lighting and a constantly ringing phone) is all very well in theory – but what about the economic reality of cost-per-square foot of office space and the expense involved in creating break out rooms, comfy corners and giving everyone a desk-with-a-view?

In fact, google research revealed that (doh!) information flowed fastest in an office environment among people who were closely packed together.

But can we really be productive in such a busy, distracting environment?  I certainly get more ‘done’ when I work from home – but then of course all that Information isn’t Flowing via me if I’m not there.  On the other hand, this post and accompanying comments on mommy blogger site TheMomSpeak suggests that the average full-time homeworker isn’t exactly Productivity Central either.

Thanks to Amelia for pointing out johnnyvulkan’s coining of ‘Lurking’ – getting distracted maintaining twitter, facebook, flickr etc while at work (wherever that might be).  Of course he added that as a ‘media professional’ it was all just research : -)

In the Archie Norman era, Asda apparently encouraged head office staff to wear special baseball caps when they were thinking so they wouldn’t be disturbed (reasons not to work at Asda HQ #87) and white ipod headphones have taken on a second life in OfficeLand as a ‘please don’t bother me’ sign, but its still an imperfect system.

Perhaps we’ll just have to grin and bear all the distractions – and head for the sanctity of home when it gets too much, assuming we can avoid the temptations of the TV…

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