I’ve been talking today to a friend of mine about her working environment and something struck me as odd. It seems to me that we have been using the wrong criteria when deciding which people should share a com.
My friend is a developer working at a large software company and is sitting in a room of 7 people. About half of those who sit with her in the room are people who’s work and personality require a low noise enviromnet and the other half are well… generating a whole lot of noise. Some of that noise is work related and some it not, but let us assume for a moment that all that noise is necessary.
I’m a one of these annoying people who need absolute silence to do thought intensive work, and so is she, but apparently not everyone is like that. My first team leader even went as far as telling me that it was my problem (the fact that I can’t work in a noisy environment) and that I should adapt. That adaptation gave me a headache, and did not improve the effectiveness of my work.
It is well known that the long hours many of us spend at the office are in part a result of the fact that only during the late hours of the day it is quiet enough at the office and thought intensive work can be done. This clearly isn’t healthy for either the person doing the work or the work being done, but there is little that can be done about it. Or is there?
When we were moving to our new office space, we’ve disussed at length who should sit with whom, how the furniture should be arranged, etc. But there was one concept that we had all agreed upon: people working on the same team, must sit in the same room.
But why did we all agree on that? Presumably there’s a lot of communication between members of the same team, and putting them in the same room should be more effective. But because team members usually work on related tasks they might be inclined to ask their team mate a question without taking the time to look the answer up. That might shorten the time it takes to get their answer, but might also interrupt the person answering. That person is usually the most qualified one on the team, who should have the opportunity to concentrate and not answer mandane questions. So from that point of view, perhaps people on the same team shouldn’t always sit together.
But there is another, stronger issue. Some people like to work with music, and others prefer a quiet environment. Some like the air conditioning set to its coolest, and others like warmer air. Some have a job description that requires them to use the phone a lot, and others are doing mostly thought intensive work that is done better in an interrupt free environment. When all of those share the same working environment, conflicts arise. On the other hand, there usually isn’t an infinite number of separate rooms available so that each person could get the environment suited for him. We need a solution that doesn’t require more working space.
If we would use the personality, work habits and the type of work as a criteria for detrmining who should share a working area, we could minimize those conflicts. That should boost productivity and outweigh the benefits of a team-centered work space division.