Sunday, June 22, 2008


Finally, someone has engaged in serious study on the subject of multi-tasking and its ineffectiveness.

All week, I've seen articles by Maggie Jackson, referring to her book, Distracted.

The office of the millennium is rampant with distractions. From colleagues' discussions through cheesy burlap cubicle walls that offer no sound buffer whatsoever, to loud arguments in the hallways, to impromptu brainstorming sessions between collaborating colleagues.

I'm not saying that offices should be silent. That people should squirrel themselves away in their cubicles, never to be heard from until lunchtime. And I'm really not in support of more interruption-oriented tools that purport to do the opposite. (A "whisper" is just as annoying as an IM, in my opinion.)

What I take issue with is how it's been said that all of this open-space office design is not just about cramming more people into less space than a traditional office with a door would allow (and to that, I say: ha!).

But the spin is that cubicles and open-space office interiors exist to foster collaboration.

Now, I'm all about collaboration. I applaud it.

However, I don't think collaboration can be fostered by the space.

It's about the people and their ideas, not the walls or lack thereof.

Collaboration is simply bound to happen spontaneously, when two people are chatting about a problem. And sometimes trying something out - evaluating it on screen, and fixing it on the fly, and whooping in celebratory appreciation of an intractable problem solved. That's how innovation happens.

I get that.

But I don't get that people disrespect the fact that you're obviously working, typing away, trying to get something done, and just walk right into a cubicle and interrupt without asking permission.

It's simple common courtesy. Office Etiquette 101.

Studies have shown that interruptions cause workers to take 30 more minutes to get back to the task at hand. I get interrupted on average at least 20 times a day - so what does that say about my schedule?

No wonder it seems like our to-do lists are only growing, never getting shorter...

There simply aren't enough hours in the day.


Anonymous said...

Work smarter, not harder!

Spandrel Studios said...

Yes, well, the argument could be made that the environments in which we're forced to work make it physically impossible to work smarter!

The noise, the distractions, and the bad lighting! What about the lighting?

Someone recently brought up the idea of team rooms or mini conference rooms where people could get away from the hubbub for some peace to dig in and get some work done. One place I worked, those rooms were booked solid for weeks!

Plus, it seems logical to me that the environment we're working in for 99% of the time - aka our individual workspace - should provide the ability to dig in and get work done ALL the time.

Stephanie said...

i used to keep a mirror in my cube so I'd be a step ahead of those rude folks...

I also got into the habit of knocking on somebody ELSE's cube instead of just walking right in....

Spandrel Studios said...

Hey, Steph... I do the door-frame knock, myself! So far, many of my colleagues seem to do it, too -- so we must be onto something.

Good idea about the mirror, too!