Monday, June 02, 2014
So-called open "offices" have been the rage in business architecture for quite
some time, but they have always struck me as one of the most mind-numbing,
hellish settings for any attempt at productive work. (I have been fortunate enough to completely avoid them.) The data bear me out, and it looks like this inane practice is
finally being questioned:
The open office was originally conceived [pdf] by a team from Hamburg, Germany, in the nineteen-fifties, to facilitate communication and idea flow...It is astounding to me that something premised on the idea of helping the flow of ideas would fail to start with the following obvious question: "Where are the ideas supposed to come from?" Following that line of questioning might have averted the need to consider the enormous loss of productivity that treating ideas as if they grew on trees (or come from people cast together in a pit) has caused.
In 2011, the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers' attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Compared with standard offices, employees experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation. When David Craig surveyed [pdf] some thirty-eight thousand workers, he found that interruptions by colleagues were detrimental to productivity, and that the more senior the employee, the worse [he] fared. [links in original, bold added]
In light of this folly, it is interesting to consider what Ayn Rand had to say about focus and the value of being free from distractions:
... Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one's consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality--or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make... [bold added]Perhaps I am wrong to be astounded: Being out of focus has been fashionable for even longer, and would preclude the ability to appreciate what being in focus can do -- or the consideration of making sure anyone else can achieve such a state.