Skip to main content

Open Work Environments Creating Open Season On Employee Morale

The New York Times is having an "a-ha" moment this week as it realizes open work environments without walls are driving employees a bit cray-cray. Talk to the hand, people, talk to the hand.

job fails - Around the office, they call this the "Party Cubicle"
see more Monday Through Friday

I must confess I'm not the least bit surprised as the walls come tumbling down on this workplace realization. I've made no secret of my disdain for open work environments as a stress-inducing productivity killer. Sure, open work spaces look nice, but form isn't necessarily going to help employees function better. Management thinks tearing down the walls will lead to better teamwork and higher productivity when it's actually resulting in more stressful interactions and lower morale.

Now articles are telling us how the open office floor plan is leading employees to compensate in some fascinating ways, such as listening to their iPods to drown out ambient noise and hiding behind tenuously-stacked "walls" of paperwork to block out visual distractions. Employees feel like they're constantly on stage, even when they're talking shop with a nearby co-worker from the comforts of their own desk.

Who can blame employees for feeling a bit unnerved by it all. No one wants to look up to see a co-worker eating lunch at his desk (again). No one wants festival seating to a co-worker's phone argument (again) about who was supposed to clean the litter box. No one really wants to see a co-worker's rampant desk clutter that's so bad he could definitely secure a spot on Office Hoarders: Buried Alive even though your office theoretically has a clean desk policy.

No, thanks. Sign me up for a boring, beige cubicle, please. The taller the walls, the better. The 20th-Century cube farm never looked so good.

I'm not alone in my thinking, either: UC Berkeley research finds half of employees are annoyed by the lack of "speech privacy" found in today's work environments. Say it once more with feeling so everyone can hear it across a crowded room. Tomorrow you'll finally remember to pack your iPod headphones.

So what can be done about it? Management everywhere should take the downsides into consideration as it considers quite literally taking down the walls. Just because it's new doesn't always mean it's better; just because a designer or architect says it's on trend doesn't mean you should do it. Better yet, ask employees what they want. Do they want to see and hear everyone else during every moment of the workday? The answer might make you slam the door on this idea.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…