I’ve never been able to work effectively in an open floor plan environment. Quite a few people tout the benefits of communication, collaboration and creativity but it was always obvious to me that productivity in an open plan environment depended a lot on the specific workers involved.
And yet, most discussion of the topic doesn’t take the individual employee into account. Firms debate headphone use at the office from today’s Boston Globe is just the latest example. The topic is whether or not headphones are a good idea in the workplace. The article focuses on productivity, communication between co-workers, and distractions, but there is no emphasis at all given to how preferences might be based on how individuals’ minds work.
I worked in an open environment only once, for less than two years, in my first job out of college. I liked the company but retreated to a conference room or other private space as often as I could. In a later job, where offices were shared, I opted for a small one with no officemate as soon as I could. Ultimately I started my own company and did away with the problem once and for all.
Still, I feel badly for those chained to their cubicles, desks or whatever. It isn’t easy to speak up and ask for a special arrangement, like working from home or in an office. It’s likely to be seen as anti-teamwork. Yet some people can be more collaborative if they aren’t immersed full-time in a common space. Bosses would do well to take the different needs of employees into account when designing workspaces.
Perhaps the introvert bosses among us will take the lead.