Office Oppression

Saturday, July 6, 2013
Posted in category Business

I love the title of this Bloomberg Businessweek article, “Ending the Tyranny of the Open-Plan Office.” Venessa Wong’s theme is that open-plan offices, the newest thing in corporate creativespeak, is distracting.

About 70 percent of U.S. employees now work in open offices, according to the International Management Facility Association. But the collaboration-friendly environment with minimal cubicle separations “proved ineffective if the ability to focus was not also considered,” according to a new study by the design firm Gensler. “When focus is compromised in pursuit of collaboration, neither works well.”

Not that I am against collaborative environments – on the contrary, I think if they are done right they can be cheery, inviting, and productive. But that is in addition to a private, quiet working space. If you scroll down the article, the photos shown represent collaborative spaces that are outside of the day-to-day workspace. My company has set up many of these types of environments, and they are booked solid day-after-day and require much lead time in order to book them for a meeting. They are that popular. Our company has been renovating floors and purchasing colorful, themed, artsy furniture to create these environments where collaborative efforts can take place, and where the aura motivates people to meet, collaborate, and work extra hours. The conference rooms that resemble a janitor closet just don’t cut it anymore for creativity and motivation purposes. I try to skip as many meetings as I can in the Ugly Rooms.

In past years, I wrote articles about corporate cubicle hell and why I hate meetings for, and I haven’t changed my mindset one bit since those days. Being an artist at my core, I can’t stand shuffling my feet over to the closed, stuffy, heartless confinement closets that the corporate drones call “conference rooms.”

Thanks to Butler Shaffer’s daughter, Bretigne, I took a tour of Google a few years ago. The The ambience in the shared spaces, where we were able to go, was sparking and intelligent. Google’s director of global design, who is quoted in this article, talks about designing space for solo, team, extroverts, and introverts. A key concept of true diversity, in my mind. As an introvert, shoving me into a perpetual collaborative space would punish me, pierce my need for privacy, and drain my energy. When I am allowed to move from space to space, in order to satisfy my need for privacy and/or productive mingling, I flourish. It is not uncommon for me to book creative conference room space and hole up for a few hours in those places getting work done without anyone knowing where I am. Our company also has treadmill laptop stations; ping pong; foosball; large screen TVs with Wii; large-scale, multi-faceted collaborative media rooms; a multi-station cafeteria, and a java house with an artistic decor and meeting space.

Slowly but surely, corporate America is leaving the cattle house behind and embracing the human need for expressive socialization, as well as necessary quiet time.

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2 Responses to Office Oppression

  1. Otaddy says:

    July 9th, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    “expressive socialization” is the key.  There is too much worthless socialization and it prevents real work from getting done.  

    I think this is because corporations still function largely based on what Susan Cain calls “The Extrovert Ideal”.  Hence, we need meetings so that the extroverts can talk and feed their egos.  We need senior leadership that dresses and looks well when they talk (but say nothing).  

    I applaud Google for giving consideration to their more introverted staff members.  I wish my company would do the same.  

  2. Zack Flummerfelt says:

    July 19th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I work for a large telecommunications company and I am on the phones most of the day. I yearn for more cubicle division for the plan purpose of being able to here the customer. My personality has nothing to do with it. Some of these silly trends make it harder to actually get work done.

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