PRODUCTIVITY

Be More Productive In an Open Work Space

Readers weigh in on the challenges of balancing collaboration and getting "real" work done.
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Our recent post about the challenges that introverts face in the modern workplace--particularly, the trend toward open plan work spaces--garnered some interesting feedback and a few questions from readers.

One reader talked about the challenges he faces in his office, which features an open "bullpen" of desks for sales personnel, including executives. "As a self-admitted introvert," he said, "I find the area extremely fun and energetic, though very, very unproductive. What have you found to be a suitable balance?"

That's a great question. We have a similar open space in our Chicago office. I (Bill)--the introvert in my partnership with Karl--find it hard to work in this open space, so I usually retreat to a conference room to get work done. Understanding the potentially mixed message from a boss who "hides" in a conference room all day, I balance this in a couple of ways:

  • - I try to remind myself to walk the halls a few times a day to say hi to everyone, maybe even challenging someone to a game of ping pong.
  • - I accept that I'm only 80 percent productive at best on those days I'm in the office, and therefore plan my work accordingly.

Needless to say, if I were designing an office space to fit my needs, it might be less open and have more private space. However, I think on balance our office meets the need of most of our team, with plenty of places to retreat to and plenty of open space. We have three meeting rooms, two full-sized offices and three "phone booth" desks, all with closing doors. Only on our most crowded days do we find we run out of space.

We asked our reader how he achieves balance. His response:

"At the office, I've similarly just accepted that I'll be less productive or retreat to the conference room when I need to put my head down and get 'thought required' work done.  It often leads to somewhat longer days at the office, but such is life in the world of a younger company."

We also heard from Vanessa Piccinini of Dotted Line Communications, who guided us to a recent study on workplace "productivity killers"conducted by Ask.com and Harris Interactive.

Some key points from the online survey:

  • - 86 percent of workers prefer to work alone to achieve maximum productivity, suggesting that perks like foosball tables and bean bag lounges may boost morale, but they don't always drive efficiency.
  • - Just 27 percent of workers prefer an "open room" or "newsroom" setting, and 61 percent cited noisy co-workers as a top workplace distraction.
  • - Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) say they spend more time in meetings talking about work than actually doing it.
  • - 46 percent say that, even though they sit close to their co-workers, they mostly communicate with them through e-mail, IM, or phone.
  • - 38 percent indicated they would rather do unpleasant activities--such as taking on more work or sitting next to someone who eats loudly--than sit next to their boss.

These are some interesting results, especially the last one. As the "bosses," we'll make a point of sitting next to each of our team members some point soon to identify the 38 percent--and find ways to make them more comfortable!

IMAGE: Corbis
Last updated: May 21, 2013

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale

Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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