So, I work from home, so you wouldn’t think I had a dog in the open office fight, right?
Partially, this is a feature of the design of my home, which currently precludes dedicated office space with a door you can shut, but as one kid makes up a song of her own in the background at one end of the hallway at the top of her lungs while the other one sings “You’re Welcome” from Moana over and over and over (and over) at the other end, and other family members come in and out of the door to make plans, all while I try to write this post and get reading for Wednesday night church and prepare for a two day trip, I’m very much in sympathy with that research which says employees in open offices actually get sick of each other sooner, are less productive, and email each other more.
We talk a lot – at least in my corner of the faith and work movement – about the need for the sabbath of time. Granted, we have a long ways to go on that one, as well, but I’d like to hear more about the sabbath of space. That article I linked to above notes that their research shows “the need for workers to have constraints on their interactions and have boundaries that help them make sense of their environment.”
Walls and doors and plans that give privacy and dignity to other humans are as much a part of work-life “balance,” or better, work-life integration, as taking days off in your week, hours off in your day, and months off in your year (all of which I also heartily endorse). My mom’s been gone 11 years, but I can still hear her quoting John Ruskin: “There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it” and Khalil Gibran: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” (Yes, she was a Methodist, but she was a weird and mystic Methodist.)
That “coveted, buzzy work environment that amplifies creativity and collective intelligence” which Ars Technica says that employers are seeking out? I’ve been there many times – nearly always after hours at a conference when we all get together at the local watering hole and bat ideas around. That’s its natural habitat – not an open office. Let your employees come up with their own rhythm of creativity and productivity. And for Pete’s sake, let them shut the door.