Open plan offices

I am a self-confessed introvert. We moved into our open-plan Sandton office a few years back. I love the openness and the design aesthetic of our office. It really is a beautiful, fun space. The problem is; I am not very productive there. Smelly lunches, annoying ringtones, messy colleagues, loud conversations about last night’s TV shows – an open-plan office can seem like one hurdle after another for a worker trying to focus!

There are colleagues to whom I talk, conversations I overhear, people moving in and out of my field of vision. I feel a general sense of insecurity and the need to be constantly aware of the people around me.  It provides too much stimulation and really jangles my nerves!

I should point out that I love my colleagues! They are genuinely fun and likeable people who lead interesting lives. Ironically, if I did not care about them at all, I could be much more productive. I have no problem working on an airplane (a much louder and cramped environment) because I have no affinity for my fellow passengers. But at our Sandton office I am just too aware of my colleagues and have a hard time thinking clearly in that open-plan environment.

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain discusses the challenges introverts face in finding a productive, creative work environment. Cain notes that open-plan offices reduce productivity and impair memory, and create a host of other problems:

1.    Open-plan offices are associated with high staff turnover. They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated and insecure.

2.    Open-plan office workers have fewer personal and confidential conversations with colleagues.

3.    They’re often subject to loud and uncontrollable noise, which raises heart rates, releases cortisol… and makes people socially distant, quick to anger, aggressive and slow to help others.

For open plan to work, employees should, at least, try to stick to the following rules:

·   Don’t speak too loudly on the phone.

·  Switch off your phone’s ringtone and use the vibrate option.

·  Keep your desk clean.

·  Stay at home if you’re sick so you don’t spread germs.

·  Leave the tuna, onion, fish, tripe or other smelly leftovers at home.

·   Don’t eat noisy food like Nik Naks, chappies or apples at your desk.

·    Respect your colleagues’ privacy – don’t go through their drawers.

·      Don’t eavesdrop – even though you heard what they said, don’t expect them to continue the conversation they just ended with you!

·         Use headphones when listening to music.

·         Don’t sneakily stare at my computer screen!

·         Don’t fart J!

Kim Mann 2014-08-21 08:30:02 PM
Both America and Australia tried open plan and found that it did not work. South Africa is about 15 to 17 years behind!! Open plan is very counter productive but our capitalists need bigger bonuses so they have to force as many sardines into a tin as they can get. Look at their fancy offices whilst the slaves are battling to cope!!
Trevor Theron 2014-08-22 06:49:37 AM
I sympathize with you boet! Top notch organizations provide an environment conducive to retaining their best talent, a concept few SA companies care to explore since we are all too dependent on our jobs to challenge this situation.