John Stancavage: Too much intimacy on the job may be new TMI
BY JOHN STANCAVAGE World Business Editor
Sunday, April 29, 2012
4/29/12 at 3:24 AM
How well do you know your co-workers? If your company uses an open-office architectural plan, maybe better than you want to.
We can expect this enforced chumminess to only get worse, according to a prediction on the SecondAct.com website.
In a list of business trends, blogger Michelle V. Rafter ranked open office space as No. 3.
"With fewer employees coming into the office, companies are reconfiguring floor plans to devote more square footage to communal areas and less to traditional, walled work spaces," she wrote.
"Some have remodeled entire floors to include shared workstations and group areas for impromptu brainstorming or conference sessions. Employees who aren't around every day may get lockers to stash personal items during office hours."
I would guess there are some upsides to such a design, apart from cost. Working near others seems to help foster teamwork and could improve turnaround times and create efficiencies.
But there are definitely negatives. I've talked to people who've gone from a private office at one job to a more open environment at another. Some struggle to concentrate, with a cacophony going on around them that might include the results of Jimmy's softball game, a call to the auto shop complete with mimicked engine noises or details of a weekend date gone awry.
Some offices try playing "pink noise," or a constant static, to mask conversations, while occupants in others strap on headphones.
I've worked in an open office space for my entire career, since that's the traditional format for newsrooms.
People in my business think nothing of yelling across three other people's workspaces to tell a fourth person 30 feet away that the Dow is up 200 points (whoops, that probably is me.)
It works for us, but even veteran staffers can reach limits. "TMI ... TMI," one of my employees will protest every so often as a conversation caterwauls into personal territory. "Too much information!"
There's probably no reversing the shift toward closer proximity, but there's another movement that may counterbalance it. More employers are embracing telecommuting (Rafter's No. 2 trend, by the way).
Working from home still faces some long-held stigmas. Many managers can't get past the fear that their workers might be in pajamas at noon, doing "research" at the movies or clicking on sports blogs instead of spreadsheets.
But others are finding that the bulk of employees can be just as productive at home as they are at the office - maybe even more so.
The Telework Research Network reported recently that 45 percent of the U.S. work force holds a job that is compatible with at least part-time telework. It also predicted that regular telecommuters will total 4.9 million by 2016, a 69 percent increase from the current level.
Sounds like a good cure for TMI.
Original Print Headline: Too much intimacy on the job may be new TMI