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“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Government. It’s ongoing mission to …”
Last week we talked about space and how the reduction in space is detrimental to personal productivity. So is more space the right answer? No.
First of all, the appropriate amount of space per person is different. Everyone has a different amount of space that they consider appropriate so not everyone will be happy. That’s just the way it is. Some roles need more space than other roles. Not your level (System Analyst, Manager, etc.) but role.
Second, and probably most importantly, it is the quality of the space that really counts. You can get away with smaller space if you increase the quality of the space. There is a trend towards lowering the height of partitions between desks. (Cost cutting measure.) This decreases the quality of the space. People need to be able to concentrate. Putting in barriers between desks deadens the sound and increases the ability to concentrate. Lowering those barriers increases the sound level making it more difficult to concentrate and, as a result, lowers the quality of space.
If you need to make a private phone call, do you step into the hallway, with the other 12 people trying to make private calls? Everyone will receive a phone call that requires some privacy. Test results from the Doctor? A teacher calling about the kids? Police asking about the accident you saw? No organization should assume that a person, while at work, will spend 100% of their time on work-related items. It doesn’t happen. It didn’t happen in the past and it’s not going to happen in the future. Understand that and cope with it.
Noise pollution is considered one of the most insidious forms of pollution as no one really sees it coming until – BAM – it’s too late.
I recently saw an article where a company reduced the amount of space per person to something on the order of 60 sq. ft. but people loved it. Each person had their own cubicle that had four walls. (Yes, there was a door in one of the walls.) When they wanted some peace and quiet they closed the door and the room was quiet. The employees liked the new space because each person was able to go into their own little cocoon of tranquility.
Other organizations have a much more open floor plan (note to facilities people, no one really likes the open floor plan concept) but they still have quiet areas where people can go to concentrate. Everyone is mobile, with a laptop or tablet, and can work from any desk. For some organizations, where staff themselves have a more fluid role, this works. When you are on a project you sit near the people you need to work with. When you’re not, you don’t.
Is there a hard cut off point for either space or quality? Heck no, everything is subjective. But let me leave you with a couple of points:
1) If you can hear the person next to you when they click their mouse button then the office space is too open. Put up some walls, create some private spaces, do something so that the noise is going to be stopped.
2) Be creative with solutions. Don’t reduce space and reduce wall height as both of those together are not the solution. If you reduce space, increase the wall height so that much of the noise is blocked. If you reduce wall height, increase space so that noise is reduced by the time it gets to your neighbour.
Creative solutions do not necessarily cost more money, they require more effort. The easy way out is to reduce both. The better way out is to think and come up with a solution that increases one (space or quality) while reducing the other.
producitivity = amount of space X quality of space