Working in the office and productivity


Is the time spent in the office more productive comparing to the time worked elsewhere?

Apparently not. At least not when in comes to open-space offices, by far the most popular now.

There are more distractions, which means less focus. The open-space office, with its inherent noise and lack of privacy, greatly contribute to that. People working in the open office are less happy and less motivated. It also means: less productive. It has been known for decades and confirmed in many later studies, yet mostly ignored. The recent studies confirm that working conditions in open space offices make it harder to focus and generally decrease the performance.

Some companies seem to acknowledge that open offices are bad. Unfortunately, their solution is to replace open offices with… more fancy open offices with “private spaces” and more conference rooms. Of course, this is not a solution, but a desperate attempt to revive a concept which should have been already dead. In all the “cool” offices I have seen so far there is always a shortage of free conference rooms and comfortable private working spaces, irrespectively how big the office is and how many of these facilities there are.

People try to fight these shortcomings of working in open space office – if you ever noticed developers with headphones it was not necessarily because they love music so much. They hate noise and distractions at work.

If you are in the office there is high chance a co-worker would stop at your desk to have a friendly chat or to ask a completely unimportant question. Or your team lead / project lead / superior decides to held an ad-hoc meeting, because he have an idea and a free slot at the moment and noticed that everyone is (or should be) at their desks. There are plenty of these and much smaller distractions (like someone passing by or talking to a person nearby) every day. Each of them cost you focus, productivity and negatively affects your well-being.

And if you were not in the office? Your co-worker most probably would not bother to call / message you just for the chat and would only ask a question if it was vital. The meeting would be held with a proper notice and an agenda or the topic would be addressed at any of the other meetings. There would be no other distractions. And you could focus on things which are important.

If the office is not a comfortable place for people to work it would be cruel to force people to come there. More importantly, it is just economically unjustified to force them to work in the environment they are not fully productive. This is why at Narwhal Data Solutions we adopted fully flexible and fully remote working style.

But if you sit in the same room in the office the communication must be better than if you all were in completely different places. It sounds logical, doesn’t it? And this is what HR managers proudly says: “we have a modern open space office to promote direct communication and team work”. They know it, right?

Not really. Or maybe they know it, but they ignore it.

How comfortable are you to have a chat with another person if you know that all the other people are listening? Would you dare to discuss the project at your colleague desk if you know you would disturb a dozen of other people with your conversation? Would you rather write a private e-mail instead? Or held “a quick meeting” in one of the conference rooms if you really prefer to talk? Many people answer “yes” to the last two questions and this is how “open communication” looks like in many offices. Again, the belief of improved communication in open office was proven wrong many years ago and the recent studies confirm the adverse effect – decrease of face to face communication and increase in e-mail and IM. And e-mail and IM works the same way, irrespectively if you are in the office or not.

As usual, they are caveats. All the modern communication means will not replace a face to face interactions between two people. It is important to meet personally people you work with as this greatly facilitate further remote communication. There are some activities which are better done with physical presence of the participants. Nearly all sorts of trainings and workshops, which require collaboration and immediate bi-directional feedback between the presenter and the audience, fall into that category. Some key architecture, design or planning works can be conducted easier and faster if every involved person is physically in the same room. However, these events are rare and occurs neither frequently nor regularly. In many cases, with some effort, they can be conducted remotely. And not every single communication act has to be face to face.