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Is Open Office Really Better Than Cubicles?

Is Open Office Really Better Than Cubicles?

For the last fifteen years, cubicles have been slowly disappearing from the work environment. What was originally developed to put character into assembly line types of offices is now considered soulless and impersonal. The open office model replaces the cube system as the best formula for workplace synergy, aiming to improve collaboration and the exchange of ideas. Open offices and flexible workspaces are spreading all over the world. In the United States alone, seventy percent (70%) of all offices have low or no dividing walls, with information technology firms as early advocates of the open office model.

Open Spaces: The Good and The Bad

Open offices are cost effective, mainly by maximizing floor space and lessening furniture overhead. More employees can be assigned on a floor with open offices compared to a floor with cubicles. A better sense of community is achieved with open offices, along with fostering cooperation, collaboration, innovation and creativity. The loudest advocates of open offices are those in information technology especially in Silicon Valley, advertising, and media.

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Barriers between managers and their subordinates are torn down with open offices, making management more approachable and accessible. Employees feel more like a part of a team, an enterprise that is, while more casual, innovative and dynamic. It also addresses the new kind of workforce, the mobile employees, who spend less than 60% of their time in the office. The rise of telecommuting and outsourcing contributes to underutilized workspace, one of the reasons why many companies, especially in the creative industries, opt for open offices. Some companies opt for open offices without permanent workstations for their employees, mobile or otherwise.

However, not everyone is sold on open offices. Privacy is lost on a table shared by many. People working on sensitive information would seek the privacy of conference rooms or smaller, private work areas (if any) to ensure security of data. Personal data almost becomes common knowledge with open spaces, due to close proximity of co-workers and also the lack of permanent workspace for others. The lack of permanent workstations can also add stress about privacy, with personal data trails left in the last workstation you used.

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While camaraderie amongst employees improved, it is also the biggest distraction. A false sense of productivity is created with open offices, where the chief complaints are the noise and loss of quiet time. It is difficult to concentrate on work when others are talking, discussing, and people drop by anytime. Another problem with open office is that it doesn’t recognize the fact that people work differently from others. The idea that one way of working is good for all, is wrong.  There is a time for concentration and a time to brainstorm. Most workers are forced to look for means to find time to concentrate, either by working outside the office, coming back to work at night, or buying noise-canceling earphones.

Cubicles: Simply Misunderstood?

Cubicles have been around since 1967, giving employees a small but rather cramped space of their own to work. These modular systems gave the illusion of having your own office, while at the same time giving managers a bullpen of talents to monitor with relative ease. The flexibility of the modular system allows the company to group teams faster, easier, with the idea of taking people of their offices to interact and collaborate more with their coworkers. The partitions of the cubicles give privacy and permanent space to each employee, alongside the accessibility. It also generally levels the playing field, with some team leaders or managers also working from a cubicle.

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Most of the fuss about cubicles is about how little space is assigned to each worker. With companies trying to maximize space, the envisioned flexible workspaces become cramped and impersonal. Having more cubicles means more noise and distraction and therefore less work done.

But really…

Despite all the fuss about cubicles, on how little space and privacy they offer, even more privacy and space is lost in open offices. Open offices give us less space. A study by the International Facility Management Association shows, that workers now work in smaller spaces than they were 2010, from 225 sq feet in 2010 down 35 square feet to 190 sq feet in 2013. And open offices are one of the reasons why privacy is at an all time low, with 74% of people surveyed by Harvard Business Review are more concerned now of their privacy than a decade ago.

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Open offices require teams or groups to share a table or workspace. Concentration is also at an all time low, with only half of western workers saying they are able to concentrate despite the noise and distractions. Job performance is an illusion with open spaces, and only a sense of privacy improves it. A study published in the Ergonomics journal has also found that those who work in open offices have higher rates of sick leaves.  Infection travels faster in groups than when you can control your personal environment.

While the growing trend is to redesign office spaces from cubicles to open spaces, not every one is jumping on the band wagon. Open spaces are not the end solution to efficiency and innovation. It works for some industries, but clearly not for others. Cubicles are here to stay and more office space is still set aside for individual private spaces rather than for collaboration.

Featured photo credit: Stephen Coles via flickr.com

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Last Updated on November 19, 2019

Work Smarter, Not Harder: 12 Ways to Work Smart

Work Smarter, Not Harder: 12 Ways to Work Smart

I imagine that like me, you say that you never have enough time and that you just cannot cope with 60 dozen things all at once.

How on earth do you get out of that spiral?

Many people never sit down and look at how to work smarter, rather than harder and even longer hours. But not you, you’re smart enough to try to learn effective ways to work.

So how to work smarter not harder? Here are 12 smart ways you should be following:

1. Improve Your Time Management Skills

Easier said than done? Well, no actually, because there are a few simple rules that can really help you to manage time better.

For example, when setting up a top priority task, you need to switch off the phone and ignore your email first. Then you need to abandon any ideas of multitasking as that will slow you down and ruin your focus.

Finally, set a reasonable deadline and do everything in your power to meet it.

“When you’re born, you’re born with 30,000 days. That’s it. The best strategic planning I can give to you is to think about that.” — Sir Ray Avery

2. Speed up Your Typing and Use Shortcuts

These days we’re all keyboard slaves. So why not speed up your typing and try to get rid of the two finger syndrome. In fact, when you save 21 days per year just by typing fast!

This is exactly what I am doing now, so I cannot honestly say I am practicing what I preach!

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But help is at hand. Try some of these apps and games to help you type fast: 8 Most Effective Games and Apps to Learn to Type Fast

Using shortcuts on the keyboard is another time saver and can speed up your work.

For example, press F2 to rename a selected file, while CTRL + I will put selected text in italics.

There are so many of these. If you make the effort to learn them, they really can be helpful.

3. Learn How to Use Productivity Tools

It is well worth downloading all the useful tools and apps that can highly boost your productivity. Take a look at these 18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools and install whatever fits your needs.

Now that is really a great way of working smarter, not harder.

4. Use Your Phone Wisely

Instead of writing emails, sometimes it’s better to pick up the phone and talk to the person responsible. It saves time, especially for important or urgent discussions.

If that colleague works in the same office, it is even better to go and talk to him or her. It gives you a break, you get some exercise and you actually make human contact which is becoming quite rare in this electronic world.

5. Keep a Tab on Your Tabs

If you are like me, you might well find that you have a ton of tabs open at the top of your browser.

In order to find the one you want, you have to search for them as they are off screen. Having all these tabs open slows down your browser too.

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One solution is to use OneTab which can keep a neat list on the screen of all these tabs when you want to quickly get to one of them or you want to remind yourself which ones you have open.

6. Use a “To Don’t” List

We all know about to do lists and I find that they are generally great. They give me a great sense of achievement as I cross off the tasks done.

But often, I find that we are doing non-essential tasks or ones that can easily be postponed. That is why many people recommend the to don’t list.[1]

Some people prefer to savagely prune the to do list while others prefer to have two separate lists, to do and to don’t. You just have to work out what works best for you when you are trying to save precious time to become more productive.

7. Expect Failure and Fight Paranoia

When failure rears its ugly head, some people get a bit paranoid and fear that this may become a trend.

Projects will go wrong and failure should be expected rather than feared. Learning lessons from failure and analyzing what went wrong is the best way forward.

“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.” — Richard Branson

And here you can find 10 Great Lessons Highly Successful People Have Learned From Failure.

8. Be Concise

Rambling on at meetings, in emails and even when introducing yourself to new clients can waste a lot of people’s time.

One way is to practice and sharpen your “elevator speech,”[2] which tells people in 30 seconds or less why they need your skills and how they can benefit from doing business with you.

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Just think of the many situations where this could be useful:

  • Making new contacts
  • Talking about yourself at a job interview
  • Meeting people at conferences or parties
  • Phone calls to new clients

9. Ask the Right Questions

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” — Naguib Mahfouz

How do you get feedback? The secret is to ask the right questions at the right time.

When you do this, you are gathering the information you need to help in decision making. This will save you time and you will be able to cut meetings to a minimum.

Forbes magazine reports on research that they carried out on asking the right questions.[3] When that happens, the positive effects are increased by 400%. There are also other benefits in staff motivation and a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.

Lifehack’s CEO Leon has shared about how to ask for feedback to learn faster: How to Learn Quickly And Master Any Skill You Want

10. Learn as Much as You Can

You should always be on a steep learning curve. Look at your skills profile and determine where you need to fill a gap. Talk to important connections and network in your niche.

Keep up to date on trends and developments. It is a fact-changing world. When an opportunity arises, you will be the best equipped to seize it because you have never stopped learning. Just another way of working smarter.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi

11. Look After Your Greatest Resource

No, your greatest resource is not time. It is YOU.

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If you do not get enough sleep, exercise and relaxation, you find that you become less and less productive. You begin to work longer and longer hours, which is the exact opposite of what you want.

What you should be doing is making sure you are in the best shape. It is useful to remember that you need a break of 15 minutes after every one and a half hours of work.[4]

Taking breaks and getting fresh air and exercise is one of the best ways of working smarter, not harder.

12. Don’t Fall into the Trap of Working Smarter and Harder

As a society, we are obsessed with doing everything smarter so we are more efficient and we save time all around.[5]

But the most important thing to remember is to accept when we are ready to switch off that computer and not fill up the time with even more work!

The Bottom Line

The key to greater productivity is to work smarter, not harder. Working smarter saves precious time and energy for the things that really matter — your life goals, your personal growth, your health and your relationships.

Stop working for more hours and start working smarter!

More About Working Smart

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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