Open plan office space may inhibit concentration and productivity

William Belk of Rocket Fueled People is reporting something that many of us have known for a while now: Open plan office space is the worst if you need quiet to concentrate and, y’know, actually get things done:

Their work appears to be geared toward tech workers, but the open plan office fad has spread to non-tech companies as well. I work in the very conservative construction and building materials industry and even my company is converting offices to open plan. It’s also taken the accounting firms by storm.

Executives and high-performance employees (HPEs) tend to optimize against completely different trade and life principles—they generally have very different views of the world. This disconnect shows itself very clearly in the environmental conditions of our creative and technical offices. My latest anonymous survey shows that 58% of HPEs need more private spaces for problem solving, and 54% of HPEs find their office environment too distracting.

It’s comforting to know I’m not the only person who finds the hustle and bustle of an open plan office to be distracting and to inhibit concentration. When companies move to open plans, perhaps they should make sure there’s sufficient quiet rooms available for everyone who wants them. At least half of us, it seems.

Check out the link for even more discussion around how innovation depends more on processes and time, not space.

When I looked at the Rocket Fueled People website, I found something else interesting. Part of the work they do is described culture auditing, which is something internal auditors can and should do more of. These types of findings are valuable for management.

Google Docs to surpass Office in a year

Now this is interesting. Comments from Google’s president of the enterprise division indicate he believes that Google Docs will “reach a ‘point of capability’ next year that it will serve the ‘vast majority’s needs.'”

He acknowledged that Docs is currently “much less mature” than Google Mail or Calendar. “We know it. We wouldn’t ask people to get rid of Microsoft Office and use Google Docs because it is not mature yet,” he said.

But this is expected to change in about a year, after the company’s introduces another “30 to 50” updates.

Less mature by a long shot in my experience. Every time I’ve tried to edit spreadsheets using the software I’ve thrown my hands up in frustration very early on in each attempt. Granted, I think I’m nearing the stage of “advanced” Excel user (I should hope I am by now anyway), but I find the assertion that Google Docs will be eclipsing Office in only a year’s time to be unbelievable.

We shall see once those 30-50 updates are released into the wild. For now, hang on to your desktop office suite if you’re producing professional documents.

Has anyone else attempted to use Google Docs (or Zoho) to replace Office for professional work? How did it turn out?

Office atmosphere should be frenetic, fluid

New York magazine has a feature on the offices of prominent New Yorkers, from Martha Stewart to Michael Bloomberg. Martha’s was devoid of anything remotely resembling work, which perhaps indicates how much of it she gets done. (No word on where the insider trading occurred.)

But it was Bloomberg’s that really impressed me, because he doesn’t technically have an office. He eschewed Giuliani’s former digs and instead filled a large room with low-walled cubicles and called it “the Bullpen”.

The enormous, newsroom-style office houses 50 of his senior staff and aides. “I’ve never understood why anyone would want to seal himself off from the rest of the organization. In the Bullpen, there are no walls, no gatekeepers, and no communication barriers,” explains Bloomberg.

This is the ideal situation in my opinion, and it’s like that at a lot of accounting firms. We even call our version of that room the bullpen as well, so I hope Bloomberg doesn’t consider the name original. The problem with my firm’s office is the walls around everyone’s desks are too high. You have to stand up to see the desk beside you.

Having an office like this is good because you see everyone more and although noise may occasionally be a problem, that can easily be overcome by having some actual offices available for individuals or groups to set up in to have a more secluded session. For general use, the bullpen is best.

What are other accounting firms’ setups like? Do we all have bullpens? Is this the best way to organize an office to enhance communication between colleagues, or does it just hinder productivity? Tell me in the comments!

(Via kottke.)

Shared office space can preserve scarce cash

Smart cash flow management is critical to any business, but especially so for startups. Leasing the building, furnishing it, maintaining it, equipping it with phone and computer systems and networks… These are significant costs that startups would do well to avoid for as long as possible.

So it was with great interest that I read about the Indoor Playground, “a next generation co-working environment … for the entrepreneur who needs an office space on occasion as well as a community centre for collaboration.” They’re even using Ning for their web presence!

It sounds pretty cool. They have 14 smaller meeting rooms averaging 100 square feet, four larger shared meeting spaces, and a breakfast bar with shared room for working.

There’s an article in BusinessWeek.com about the phenomenon called co-working that features Indoor Playground:

One of the newest co-working facilities, for-profit Indoor Playground, opened in Toronto on Feb. 1 with a mission statement focused solely on supporting local entrepreneurial activity. The space’s hanging dividers and movable desks allow for reconfigurable work areas that can accommodate growing businesses as well as community events. Those events are planned by members themselves, both in person and through wikis.

I’ve toyed with the idea of setting up an accounting firm in a similar manner, with both private and shared working areas, but no assigned cubicles or desks. It’s not that far out, since work tends to come in somewhat “discrete units” in the accounting business. It would encourage employees to move around and enable more interaction amongst departments that wouldn’t normally be situated together.

Tell me in the comments what you think of the idea.

(Via Maple Leaf 2.0.)

Casual Fridays become Casual Weekdays

What qualifies as acceptable attire in the workplace has been changing ever since the advent of Casual Fridays. Friday has become every day of the week, and there’s a growing backlash against the slackening of dress codes. Tie Tuesdays are beginning to crop up.

A couple days ago I blogged about going to client’s, which is relevant because I can attest to the fact that in nearly every workplace I’ve visited, the dress code has been very casual. Accordingly, our dress code has been loosened. We’re instructed to dress a degree more formal than the client, which makes sense.

You don’t want to show up at an office where the employees are dressed in jeans and you’re wearing a suit and tie. You’d look like a lawyer, and no one likes lawyers.

(I don’t have a problem with lawyers though, some of my friends are even law talkin’ guys. Although drinking with them is a bit trying at times because they keep talkin’ law.)

The exception for me is when I’m at law firm clients, where the employees are dressed to the nines and it’s literally impossible to dress a degree more formal, short of wearing a tuxedo.

So, is the casualizing of the workplace a good thing? To an extent, I think it is. Comfortable employees are happy employees, and happy employees are productive. What do you think?