#514  from Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 1          January 2001

FORUM—from our readers

Open Office Space—Not For Me!

Six months ago we moved from an old office building to a fancy new one.  It’s great, with exciting color schemes, lots of light, and all kinds of interesting angles built into the architecture.  It also has that “new” smell.  No complaints about any of this.

Another difference between this building and the old one is that, instead of closed offices, we are now in open cubicles.  This was intended to increase the quality of communication.  Communication quantity has certainly increased; however, work quality has decreased.

You see, many of my colleagues enjoy chatting—about anything.  And there’s a constant background of yakking about children, parties, shopping, company rumors, boy/girlfriends, etc.  Much of the work most of us do involves concentrating over columns of numbers, and the background of talking definitely interferes with my work, and the work of at least several other staff members. 

We’ve complained about the distractions, but our gripes go against the new effort to stimulate communication.  Many of the staff really enjoy this open environment.  I’ve noticed that there’s a positive correlation between the amount of chatting someone does and the level of acceptance of our open spaces.  Our most effective workers, by contrast, do not spend a high percent of their day in mindless chatter and are annoyed by the noise. 

I believe that the leaders of the company committed to this cubicle arrangement and refuse to admit it was a mistake. I don’t know of a single person in my department who was asked for advice on the new office architecture.  I’d love to know how the decision for open cubicles was made.  By the way, as far as I know, there was never a communication problem in the department.  Maybe the communication problem is between top brass and the workers.


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