Archive for July, 2011

Open plan office

There isn’t much I miss about my previous job at KPMG. But there is one thing that revives an irrepressible longing – My workspace. I clearly remember my first day at Deloitte. Walking into the office and stopping dead at my Managers indication of a flat table with a chair and a flimsy 20 cm partition separating me from 3 neighbours. This is your desk!

Desk? What desk? It was a long table split in half by plastic two handspans high, separating two workers on each side. There was no delineation of boundaries between me and the person sitting beside me. My first instinct was to turn around and walk out. I love my personal space and I hate having it invaded. Working 8 hours a day with no clear boundaries of where my space is, was or would be, sounded like a nightmare. Suddenly the reassuring walls of my little cubicle at KPMG looked so very appealing.

Two years on – I still hate open plan offices. Granted I have now moved to a ‘pod’ where three desks are pushed together to form a pod and I have the great plastic boundaries to mark my space – but I have found so much more to dislike about open plan offices than just the lack of personal boundaries.

  • People: More importantly – Noisy People. I understand I work in a big firm with lots of people. I understand you are a very important person making a very important call. But do you have to speak loud enough for the whole floor to hear about what you did on the weekend? I am sick of sitting near people that practically scream out their life stories on the phone, gossip with their neighbours or just sniffle away to themselves blissfully unaware of the invention of tissues.  And even if you are talking about work related topics, do you have to do it while standing right next to my desk? Meeting rooms have doors – this is so you can CLOSE them and have a meeting without disrupting others, not leave them open and hold loud conversations that frustrate me into getting up and closing your door for you.
  • Kichen/Tea room – I love the Kitchen. I love the tea the coffee and the cute Deloitte mugs. What I could live without is the sudden transformation from tea room to pub/restaurant/mates house that happens every lunch time and after 5pm. Suddenly a desk near the kitchen is not convenient – it requires earplugs as every newbie grad in the building seems to have congregated in the kitchen and insists on speaking louder than the person next to him/her
  • Sickly co-workers – Lovely, congenial enthusiastic colleagues can turn into pale faced, red nosed, tissue wielding workers from your worst nightmare at the first onset of a cold. I understand your dedication to your job and your love for your work that makes you come into work when you look like death warmed up. Honestly I do. But do you have to build up that pile of used tissues on your desk? Do I have to bless you while you try and break some world record for most sneezes per minute? Will my ears be forever subjected to the grating live updates of your bodily functions via coughing, sneezing and the shifting of phlegm and mucus? Here is a thought – STAY AT HOME!
  • The chair borrowers – It took me three months after I joined to find a proper chair in this place. Every day I would come to work and spend ten minutes trying to work out who had ‘borrowed’ my chair and where they had left it. I didn’t know my “Where’s Wally” skills would be so useful in my current role. Even after I had laboriously written my name on a paper and stuck it to the chair – I came back from holidays to find a nice old man sitting three pods across using my chair with the label with my name STILL on the armrest. I have since recreated the label as below.

I know this post seems like a long pointless rant – but studies actually back me up! These two articles, Open-plan offices are making workers sick, say Australian scientists and Sick of the open plan office? report on the “overwhelming evidence” that “”In 90 per cent of the research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative, with open-plan offices causing high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover.”

 You’re telling me! There are days when I am struggling to concentrate on meeting deadlines because all the people around me insist on having little chats to their co-workers or on the phone and the combined volume makes it impossible to concentrate let alone get any quality work done. And no I cannot wear my earphones ALL day long.

“The high level of noise causes employees to lose concentration, leading to low productivity, there are privacy issues because everyone can see what you are doing on the computer or hear what you are saying on the phone, and there is a feeling of insecurity.” – Ditto.

Researcher Dr Vinesh Oommen from the Queensland University of Technology’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, says:  The research found that the traditional design was better – small, private closed offices. The problem is that employers are always looking for ways to cut costs, and using open-plan designs can save 20 per cent on construction. Based on these findings, I think employers around the country need to rethink the open-plan environment in their offices.

Hear Hear.


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