Let’s start this series of business articles with a discussion of the space we work in.
Many companies use open plan spaces where people share one big room. Usually these are cubicle farms, but it can also be done in more attractive ways. I think open plan spaces are terrible as the primary place where people work. Workers need to concentrate and they can’t do it with the distraction of nearby people chatting, talking on the phone, or even just typing.
A common justification for open plan space is that people easily share ideas and quickly help each other out. I don’t buy it. A little barrier to interaction is healthy because it makes you think a bit before you derail your coworker’s current task.
I’ve heard business people give all kinds of justifications for open plan offices, but to me they seem like excuses for saving money at the expense of workers’ comfort and sanity. The irony is that the business doesn’t really save money because cramming people together lowers productivity.
As soon as I could afford it, everyone at Alien Skin got an office with a door that closes. Most of the time our doors are open and we walk in to interact as often as we need to. But it is wonderful to occasionally close the door to concentrate on something. Even when the doors are open, distractions are low because neighbors are not visible.
With a private office it is possible to become so isolated that you don’t see some of your coworkers for weeks at a time. To address that, we changed our space so that you go through our break room to get to the offices. That means that you often run into people as you enter or leave the building or when you are taking a break or eating lunch. This results in the fruitful random connections that open plan advocates like, but the difference is that for us they happen when we are not busy with an important task.
Here is a little video tour of our office.