Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Working Environments


by Sybil Johnson

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how companies are having a hard time getting workers to go back to the office post-pandemic. People seem to have settled in working from home and be reluctant to commute. I suspect some of that reluctance comes from the environment they would be returning to.

I think there’s a lot of value in being in an office environment. It’s easier to interact with fellow employees and you’re not by yourself the whole time. On the other hand, I can understand why people want to stay home given what I’ve seen of today’s working environments that seem to favor open offices and cubicles instead of individual offices with a (gasp!) door.

In my working life as a programmer/software development manager, I was lucky enough to always have an office with a door. Sometimes I shared that office with one other person, but most of the time I was on my own. We all generally kept our office doors open, closing them only when we really didn’t want to be disturbed or, in the case of when I was a manager, I was doing a performance appraisal or having a “sensitive” conversation.

At times when I didn’t want to be disturbed and had to venture out to get a performance appraisal off of the printer (no individual printers for us first level managers, alas), I would tape a piece of paper on my back that said “Do Not Disturb” so no one would bug me when I was walking down the hall. It was remarkably effective. I’m sure people thought I was a little odd, but most of them had worked with me for a long time so they probably shrugged it off. I also did a lot of MBWA, managing by walking around, where I’d pop into people’s offices or the lab and see what was going on. I suppose that would be easier under an open concept plan.

I’m glad I stopped working in the software industry before companies stopped using individual offices. I can’t imagine trying to program in an open office or cubicle environment.

The people who say the open office or cubicle plans are superior (i.e. management) say it encourages interaction with your fellow employees and workers become more efficient. Balderdash, I say! Balderdash! We did plenty of interacting when we had individual offices either in the hallway or the break room or popping into each others offices to talk about problems. Open offices and cubicles are noisy and a lot of people find it hard to concentrate on their work. This is particularly difficult for anyone who works in a creative field. I include programming in this because I consider it an art based on science.

Writers have their favorite environments to work in. Some prefer the local coffee shop, some their homes. I can’t imagine doing any writing in a coffee shop, at least not on a regular basis. The more I write, though, the more I have discovered that I can write in a lot of odd environments like a few minutes in a doctor’s office while I’m waiting or at Disneyland. I’ve got a lot of good scenes written at The Happiest Place On Earth.

With all of the construction happening on our block (remember that 9 1/2 year stretch of continuous construction?), I learned that I could write even when it wasn’t quiet outside. Of course, I prefer quiet, but sometimes you don’t get that. BTW, construction is continuing on the house next door. This is the second bout of construction on that lot. Now, though, I’ve learned how to deal with it much better.

Someone I worked with eons ago wrote an interesting article on this whole office environment thing. You can read it here.

So, what does everyone think about the open office and cubicle concepts? Have you ever worked in that kind of environment? Did you feel you were productive?

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