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Technical Writing Poll: Office Layout and Technical Communication Productivity

TechWhirlTechWhirl United StatesPosts: 128 admin
imageTechnical Writing Poll: Office Layout and Technical Communication Productivity

On May 20, 2012, John Tierney of the New York Times published an article that struck a chord with cubicle dwellers everywhere, so much so that "From Cubicles, Cry for Quiet Pierces Office Buzz" appeared on newspaper sites across the US with hundreds of comments decrying lack of privacy, the "wall of the headphones," loss of productivity, increased anxiety and more. Speech masking technology such as "pink noise" systems and high-grade acoustical ceiling tiles can make a significant difference, but corporate culture and changing norms of etiquette also greatly impact your productivity and job satisfaction.

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  • Lauren HartLauren Hart Posts: 9
    via Wordpress
    This is a really interesting topic. That article about cubicles makes some excellent points. It doesn't seem like there is a perfect solution right now. I'm not sure how I would feel about the booths. I think it could work as long as they weren't so close to the other people. I think it's funny that when they turned off the pink noise machine that people complained.

    I work in a very open office with these semi-cubicles and "eavesdropping is encouraged" here so that we can incorporate each other's ideas into our thinking. It is often very distracting when people are on the phone or having a conversation nearby. Almost all of us use noise-canceling headphones to tune out the noise. I just read this article on yahoo about headphones.
  • janjan Posts: 1
    via Wordpress
    My office has tried many configurations. Some teams got rid of their walls and sit at tables like a newsroom and others have various cube configurations (standing, sitting, treadmills). The teams practice scrum and I have been embedded on one team or another as needed. Finally, I asked for a cube away from the teams so I can concentrate when needed but take my laptop around the office and visit subject-matter experts at their own desks or in meeting rooms.
  • Joyce FettermanJoyce Fetterman Posts: 1 ✭✭
    via Wordpress
    In my career I've had private offices, I've had cubicles, and I've shared an office. My favorite workplace office plan gave me and my SMEs each a small private office on a common hallway. When I needed to concentrate or have a meeting, I could close my door but otherwise the door was open so that I could hear what was happening among the SMEs. It encouraged communication without making us feel like we were under-valued or working in a fishbowl. That layout encouraged productivity and reduced stress.
  • via Wordpress
    I wrote the article that started all this some 12 years ago. Here's the story: Around 1999 or 2000 my company had moved the 40 or so employees to a cubicle environment. Some staffers were managers or former managers and were used to having offices, and now were annoying their neighbors with speaker phone conference calls, cube meetings, and general loud talking. Our director asked me, as the technical writer, to search for an article on cubicle etiquette for distribution to the team. All online searches back then found absolutely no hits. So I came up with my own practical and workable list that was published in the international trade journal Technical Communication. It wasn't long that I was getting reprint requests, which continues to this day, from China to Australia, UK to the US. The article was reprinted in the same journal again in 2005 and has been plagiarized many times. For instance, a search now will show hundreds of articles on the topic, with some even containing (without credit) entire text blocks lifted from my article. I don't care as long as the word gets out. The article has been posted in my research and technology park's break rooms and wall boards, but for the most part workers still like to yell over walls and commune with colleagues. After a while you get used to it.
  • ljsims_mlljsims_ml Posts: 1 ✭✭
    I've mostly experienced cubical land, with one brief, glorious stint at Telcordia where I shared an honest-to-gosh room with a door. While I have sometimes found being able to overhear the people I support, I found that I got much more done, and it was of a higher quality, when I was able to mostly close the door and ignore the rest of the world.
  • I've worked in environments ranging from completely open (just desks pushed together in a double row) to several variations on cube farms to two- (and for a while three-) person offices to an enormous individual office with real doors and windows.

    Looking back, the determining factors on whether any one of those was better than the others was less the physical environment and much more the people, the project, and my role in the project. The completely open environment worked because the engineers I was working with formed a great (small) team and we were working together on a single project. The enormous individual office was not as good because the office was too far away from the other engineers.

    I think that if you have the right team, you can work in pretty much any environment, but with the typical, okay but not perfect, team, I think you need to have some separation and privacy to be effective as an engineer or writer. I found the reverse as a manager. I think I was more effective in a more open environment. People were more likely to drop in, and it was easier to practice "management by walking around." Of course, that does come with the responsibility of knowing how to avoid unnecessarily interrupting your team and giving them the space they need to do their jobs.
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