Sorry to channel my inner Greta Garbo, but it’s true. At least it’s true for the office, most of the time.
I work in one of those “open office” environments that companies love to tout these days… even though they don’t work for things like, oh, doing actual work! They’re supposed to promote collaboration but really they just promote confabulation. They’re supposed to foster innovation but are better at creating interruption.
Last year, a survey by enterprise software strategist William Belk found that 58 percent of high-performance employees say they need more private spaces for problem solving, and 54 percent of HPEs say their office environment is “too distracting.” The survey netted 700 respondents from a broad swath of industries.
In 2013, researchers from the University of Sydney examined the “privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices” and found that the benefits of easy communication that are intended to go along with open-plan offices don’t outweigh the drawbacks, such as a huge lack of privacy.
And, psychologist Nick Perham found that office noise impairs workers’ ability to recall information and even do basic arithmetic.
I’m a music lover, so my headphones save the day nearly every day. But my company also has not one, but two forms of instant messaging apps active right now. And I despise them… they are the biggest interruptors of “flow” ever created, and I’m a flow guy to my core. (Learn more about flow, also known as being “in the zone” in the TED talk below.)
The book It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (co-founders of Basecamp) , is my new bible. I love what they have to say about chat apps.
“Yet another thing that asks for your continuous partial attention all day on the premise that you can’t miss out.”
While they admit that there are times when chat is handy, overall it typically makes it way too easy for someone to interrupt a colleague:
“But it’s terrrible when that one expert is fielding their fifth random question of the day and suddenly the day is done.
The person with the question needed something and got it. The person with the answer was doing something else and had to stop. That’s rarely a fair trade.”
Amen, Brother Jason and Brother David! Finally someone who understands where I’m coming from on this topic, and doesn’t think that I’m just being a stubborn old man in the face of change. (I’m still a stubborn old man, but we all need alone time to do our best work.)
The entire book is great for:
A. pointing out the many reasons why the current norms for the “crazy” corporate world need a major overhaul AND
B. offering much calmer alternatives.
It’s highly recommended.
And since we started with a Greta Garbo reference, we should end with one… from The Kinks!