By Caitlin Kelly
Here’s a heartfelt plea for the end of open-plan offices, from Fast Company:
Every workspace should contain nothing but offices. Offices for everyone. Offices for the junior associate and the assistant editor, and offices for the vice president and the editor-in-chief. Take those long tables, the ones currently lined with laptops at startups, and give them to an elementary school so children can eat lunch on them. We’ll have to do away with all those adorable communal spaces, but they were always a little demeaning, a little not-quite-Starbucks. We won’t need them now that we all have our own meeting place.
Peace and quiet and privacy and decency and respect for all. We people who spend more waking hours at work than we do at home, we people who worked hard to be where we are, we deserve a few square feet and a door…
Employees in cubicles receive 29% more interruptions than those in private offices, finds research from the University of California, Irvine. And employees who are interrupted frequently report 9% higher rates of exhaustion.
As someone who has worked in huge, open newsrooms with zero privacy — the New York Daily News, the Montreal Gazette — in one with cubicles, The Globe and Mail and in (yay!) several magazine jobs with a real, private office with a door that I could (and did) keep closed, this is an issue dear to my heart.
We all know what powerful effects our workspace can have on us, for better or worse. At best, they offer plenty of natural light, clean and attractive decor and furniture and spaces for public and private communication.
Newsrooms, sadly, are often the ugliest, dirtiest and meanest places imaginable.
I worked at the Daily News for a year. The newsroom is impossibly large — with one section of it stretching an entire city block, between 33d street and 32d street. The only daylight came from a high row of clerestory windows.
I arrived on my first day to be greeted by a computer keyboard so encrusted with food and drink I could barely stand to touch it, a broken, dirty chair and a desk drawer filled with a smelly, dirty pair of men’s sneakers.
My desk was jammed up against those of three other reporters, those on the I-team, the investigative reporters.
In the first few months, three of those reporters managed to avoid saying hello, smiling or pausing to chat with me. I once made the fatal mistake of trying to chat up one of the paper’s stars, who stared resolutely ahead and pretended I didn’t even exist. The photo editor, a legendary bully, dressed me down there at full volume, knowing a new reporter would hardly welcome everyone in earshot knowing she was in trouble.
And a reporter who sat behind me was so routinely toxic and inconsiderate of everyone sitting around him that a red-faced, irate co-worker sitting next to me once came close to punching him.
Not exactly a calm, supportive work environment.
My husband works at The New York Times, whose offices are eerily quiet. Most reporters and editors have small cubicles, with small glass-doored private conference rooms available when needed, and round tables for impromptu meetings.
I now work alone at home in our one-bedroom apartment, typing at a desk or a table, and have done so since June 2006. We have no kids or pets, so it’s normal for me to spend the entire day not speaking to another soul — unless it’s for work. Lonely? Yes. Focused, certainly!
I often write with music in the background or NPR’s talk shows. Even during our recent kitchen renovation, having missed the demolition part, I found it easier to be home and working (available for quick consultations with the workers) than to go elsewhere. I actually enjoyed the company.
I rarely work in a public space like a cafe (noisy, crowded, the electrical outlets usually already claimed) or restaurant (if the food is good, let’s focus on it.) I occasionally head to the library for a change of scene but, after school gets out and the teens pile in and chatter loudly, I flee home for silence.
The one cool helper Jose bought me is a MiFi, a credit-card-sized personal Internet hotspot. With it, I can connect from anywhere — a moving Amtrak train, inside the car, on a park bench.
When I worked for others, I loved having an office with a door. I hate fluorescent light so I always turned it off and used a desk lamp instead. I got a lot done without interruption, as I do today.
Each workspace offers its own challenges, though. I really miss the buzz of a productive newsroom, chatting with smart, fun colleagues, learning from tough editors.
Do you better tolerate isolation or interruption?
What sort of workspace do you work (best) in?
SPEAKING OF NEWSROOMS, I HOPE YOU’LL SIGN UP FOR MY NEXT WEBINAR — LEARN TO THINK LIKE A REPORTER — 4:00 p.m. EST SUNDAY NOV. 17.
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