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.

Using Slack in the internal audit department

I love the idea of Slack. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s collaboration software for teams that replaces a lot of what we’re currently using email to do. It’s main features as far as I can tell are persistent chat rooms (channels), direct messaging, and file sharing with cloud integration.

It would be so great if audit software did something like this, along with the audit specific features we need like work paper approval and sign-off, issue tracking, and report generation. All the audit software I’ve seen and used is just so clunky and poorly designed. I guess it’s too much of a niche market to get really well designed software that is polished and complete.

With Slack, you could set up a specific channel for each audit, or even sections within an audit (e.g. procurement), or phases of the audit (e.g. planning). Invite only those team members that are involved in that area of the audit to the channel, and add people later as needed. They’ll be able to read back and catch up on what’s happened before they joined.

So much of email is sending files back and forth, which would be eliminated with Slack. You wouldn’t even need to let someone know via email that a file’s been updated and is ready for review by the team or manager, since that communication would be within Slack too.

Are there any internal audit teams out there using Slack to reduce email volume and work collaboratively?

WSJ on why work tech sucks

You’ll have to hurry before Rupert puts it behind a paywall and blocks Google from indexing it, but the WSJ had a good article recently about technology in the workplace.

At the office, you’ve got a sluggish computer running aging software, and the email system routinely badgers you to delete messages after you blow through the storage limits set by your IT department. Searching your company’s internal Web site feels like being teleported back to the pre-Google era of irrelevant search results.

I don’t have a sluggish computer at work (it’s actually newer and better than my personal laptop), but it does run Windows XP still. Email storage limits should be a thing of the past and likely will be in 5-10 years as more businesses take advantage of cloud computing (or are forced to compete with that level of service). And I think we’ve all had bad intranet search experience!

Even more galling, especially to tech-savvy workers, is the nanny-state attitude of employers who block access to Web sites, lock down PCs so users can’t install software and force employees to use clunky programs.

For me, preventing software installation is much more heinous crime than blocking websites. Both treat employees like children, but the former serves to hurt productivity much more so than the latter. Youtube is a bandwidth hog, but explain to me why the default browser is still IE6?

“Virtual machine” software, for example, lets companies install a package of essential work software on a computer and wall it off from the rest of the system. So, employees can install personal programs on the machine with minimal interference with the work software.

This is an interesting idea. Has anyone experienced this method of organizing a work computer? It seems like a good compromise.

When they get fed up with work technologies, employees often become digital rogues, finding sneaky ways to use better tools that aren’t sanctioned by the IT department.

Is this really what the company (or the IT department) wants? Clearly not.

Instant Messaging (IM) is one area where corporations have really dropped the ball. Before I graduated from school I worked remotely part-time for a dotcom and I used MSN to communicate with my manager much more often than email. And it worked superbly. But that type of environment seems like a dream now.

The article talks about the changes Kraft Foods implemented to take better advantage of new technologies and improve worker productivity. They give employees an allowance for a phone and let them choose which one they want (60% chose iPhones). They even let employees choose their own computer, with the rule that they must consult forums for technical support if they choose not to use Windows.

For many of us, our computers and mobile phones are the primary tools we use to do our jobs. Companies that fail to provide their employees with the best tools will not get the best results.

If you enjoy hardware and software freedom at work, tell me about it in the comments!

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?

Preview Microsoft Office 2007 in the browser

As long as your browser is Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher, you can take the latest edition of Microsoft Office for a test drive without having to install a thing. Experience the bliss of the ribbon, the new UI metaphor that has already won my heart over. I loathe still having to do my work in Office 2003, which we still use at the firm. I can’t wait till we upgrade, but you don’t have to — test it now!