Gordon's fingers raced over the keys as he typed. The architecture was finally coming clear in his mind, and the pieces were now fitting together as if they were meant to, like the pieces of a puzzle. He felt satisfied and thrilled. Then the phone rang, interrupting his flow.
Not Gordon's phone — Jeff's, in the cube across the aisle. Jeff picked up, and Gordon listened with interest. Jeff was about to become a dad again, and Gordon was mildly curious. Jeff's end of the conversation was clipped and cryptic — he probably felt people listening. He told the caller he would call back, and then left to finish his call in the conference room that everyone called the "Cone of Silence."
Well, Gordon thought, not much learned here, and he returned to writing. In ten minutes, he was back in the flow. Ten minutes lost.
Cubicles provide cheap office space. They support high densities, and they can be reconfigured much more cheaply than walled spaces. From the perspective of Facilities Management, they make a lot of sense.
But cubicles can increase project execution costs.
With our increasing dependence on the telephone, cubicle occupants now experience higher interruption rates due to the noise of telephone calls of other cubicle occupants. And people who work on teams need to talk to each other too, often in person, and often in "the cubicle next to mine." Cubicles may be one of the driving forces behind telecommuting: "I'm working at home today so I can get something done."
Cubicles are cheap to build
but they depress the
productivity of anyone
who has to thinkWhen people doing brainwork experience elevated interruption rates, they take more time to finish complex thought tasks. They also make more mistakes, which lowers quality, increases the cost of rework, and lengthens time-to-market.
What can we do?
Since the interruption rate experienced by a cubicle occupant is roughly proportional to the number of cubicles in the room, reducing room sizes reduces the interruption rate. We could also return to walled spaces. Both approaches raise Facilities costs.
It's a trade-off. Since facilities planners typically aren't accountable for project schedules, their interests are different from the interests of the company, but most of the time they have a lot of control of the trade-off.
Facilities planners aren't the problem — the typical accounting system is. It fails to allocate accurately the full costs of facilities options, because it doesn't measure the cost of delays and disruptions that are traceable to Facilities. Accounting systems were never designed for that.
If we want facilities planners to have a company perspective, they must be accountable in a budget sense for the impact of their decisions. Unless they are, the trade-off they prefer generally will lower facilities costs and increase interruption rates. While that trade-off makes Facilities sense, it's often business nonsense. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- When Your Boss Is a Micromanager
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Changing your boss is one possible solution, but it's unlikely to succeed. What you can do
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- Congruent Decision-Making: II
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 26: Unintended Condescension: II
- Intentionally making condescending remarks is something most of us do only when we lose control. But anyone at any time can inadvertently make a remark that someone else experiences as condescending. We explored two patterns to avoid last time. Here are two more. Available here and by RSS on February 26.
- And on March 4: Workplace Remorse
- Remorse is an unpleasant emotion. But it need not be something we suppress or avoid. It can provide a path to a positive learning experience that adds meaning to life. Available here and by RSS on March 4.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.