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Is Open Office Really Better Than Cubicles?

Is Open Office Really Better Than Cubicles?
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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.

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Featured photo credit: Stephen Coles via flickr.com

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Lianne Martha Maiquez Laroya

Lianne is a licensed financial advisor, Registered Financial Planner, entrepreneur and book author.

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Published on July 27, 2021

15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow

15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow
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During the pandemic, video conferencing replaced in-person meetings and has now become the standard option for business meetings. Over the past 17 months, most workers have gotten past the video conferencing learning curve with Zoom or Microsoft Teams (or their platform of choice).

But just as with in-person meetings, attention can wax and wane. Some say we’re just not used to staring at ourselves so much on the screen. Instead of fixating on that, try employing smart video conferencing etiquette, or you may risk indiscretions that will flag you as a slacker.

Put the Pro in Professional

After more than a year of fine-tuning, here are the new rules of video conferencing etiquette.

1. Mute Your Mobile and Other Devices

The first video conference etiquette you need to know is muting your other devices. Just as in the pre-COVID days, someone’s obnoxious ring tone blaring Taylor Swift’s newest single in the middle of a meeting is also an annoyance if it happens during a Zoom meeting and so is the inevitable fumbling to turn off the sound. Even the apologies to the group get tiresome.

Also, when notifications are activated on the computer that you’re using for the meeting, the incoming message takes over the audio and you’ll miss out on snippets of the conversation. Be sure to eliminate this possible faux pas.

2. Dress the Part

While working from home, you may have fallen into the habit of slipping on your comfiest T-shirt each day. Hey, no judgments! But before you log on to your video conference, try to make an effort with your appearance.

Depending on your company culture and the importance of your meeting, consider dressing the part of the professional whom you wish to project. It will help you feel more self-assured, and others will likely take you more seriously.

For women, wear light make-up, put on earrings, and make sure your blouse is crisply pressed. For men, show up freshly shaved. Wearing a crisp collared shirt in a solid color will usually suffice.

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Pro Tip: Stay away from wearing white or black, unless those colors look great on you. Consider wearing light blue or brown instead.

3. Stage Your Workspace

Have you noticed the backdrops of experts interviewed on news shows? Bookshelves and photographs are carefully curated, and no busy-patterned furniture or artwork is in sight.

Take note of what appears behind you when you choose the location of your video conferences. Piles of junk mail on the table or stacks of folded laundry on the couch will convey more about your personal life than you care to share. Make sure you remove clutter from the camera’s eye, and present a tidy, orderly workspace to your colleagues, coworkers, and bosses.

4. Put Some Thought Into Lighting and Perspective

Be aware that in a video conference, your computer camera can actually make you look up to ten pounds heavier depending on where you sit. But you can easily drop those added pounds by moving back from the screen to diminish the wide-angle distortion.

Frame your head on the screen by tilting the screen up or down. Also, it’s best to not place yourself in front of a window or bright light, which makes you appear in shadow. Instead, face the light source, moving it (or yourself) until you have a flattering amount of illumination. You can also purchase some small spotlights that allow you to add light as needed.

Pro Tip: If your lights add too much redness to your skin, consider counter-balancing with a green filter.

Remember That Half of Life Is Showing Up

5. Arrive on Time

In the old days of in-person meetings, it was nearly impossible to slip in late into a meeting unnoticed. In today’s video conferences, logging in late still shows poor form. Instead, strive to arrive five minutes early and get yourself settled.

Once the meeting is underway, the host may be less attentive about late arrivals waiting to be let in. Diverting the host’s attention away from the meeting with a tardy entry request is the ultimate giveaway that you didn’t honor the schedule. If you don’t want a black mark against you, log in on time.

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6. Turn on Your Video

Few people like to see their face on the screen, but buck up and turn on your camera in video conferences. In most cases, it’s better to be a face on a screen than a name in a blank square. Your statements will be more memorable when other meeting attendees can see you.

If you need to turn off the video, either because of a poor connection, some commotion in the room, or a need for a quick break, give a short explanation via the chat feature. Then, go back on video as soon as you’re able.

Pro Tip: Keep your explanation for your departure pithy. “Sorry! Doorbell rang. Back in five” says it all. Be sure to honor what you say in chat and really do return in five minutes.

7. Plan Ahead Before Sharing Your Screen

Don’t be one of those people who makes everyone else wait as you click through folders in search of a document. That’s just poor video conferencing etiquette. If you know you’ll need to share a document or video on your screen, prepare by pulling it out of its folder and onto your desktop. Also, clean up the files and folders on your desktop to reduce clutter and facilitate easy access. Close other programs like chat, calendar notifications, and email. Disable pop-up notifications to ensure there’ll be no unforeseen distractions.

Be sure to remind the host before the meeting that you’ll need them to activate the screen-sharing function. Show courtesy once you’re finished by hitting “stop share” to return to the screen with participants.

Attend to the Pesky Details

8. Make Sure That Meetings Remain Right-Sized

With the easy accessibility of video conferencing, it can be tempting to extend the meeting invitation beyond the core group and include everyone peripherally involved in a project. But just as with in-person meetings, the more people involved, the more unwieldy the meeting becomes.

Use good judgment when asking others to sit through a video conference so that you don’t needlessly take up others’ time and so that participants can be fully engaged.

9. Remember to “Unmute” Before You Speak

Most of us are likely able to count on one hand the number of video conferences when someone didn’t have to be reminded, “You’re on mute!” Forgetting to unmute before speaking has become one of the most common missteps in video conferencing.[1]

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Show everyone your impeccable video-conferencing poise by managing your mute feature with flawless control.

10. Stay on Point to Keep the Meeting Length in Check

As with in-person meetings, an agenda with assigned time limits for discussions remains necessary to keep a meeting focused. Data shows, however, that video conferencing can actually reduce meeting time.[2] Reasons include the elimination of commuting time and the ability to screen share and annotate to keep everyone on task.

Additionally, side conversations are virtually impossible with video conferencing now that you can no longer have back-and-forth exchanges with the person beside you.

Pro Tip: If you’re running the meeting, let attendees know in advance the protocol for the chat feature. Is it okay for them to “chat among themselves” or not? (See point 11, as well.)

Talking Has a Time and a Place

11. Chat Appropriately

Just like side conversations or texting in an in-person meeting, the use of the chat feature during a video conference can be disrespectful unless it’s directed to all participants. Hence, it’s good video conferencing etiquette to mind your use of the chat.

At the start of the meeting, you may want to ask the host if it’s alright for participants to use the chat feature. This allows them to disable it if they choose. Used appropriately, it can be a helpful tool to clarify or amplify an earlier point once the conversation has moved on or to let the group know that you need to sign off early (and why).

12. Use the “Raise Hand” Feature to Avoid Interruptions

The slight lag in many video conferences can result in speaking over another person if you attempt to jump into a conversation. To avoid this awkward interruption, indicate when you have something to add to the discussion with the raise-your-hand feature that signals the host you would like to speak. This effective meeting management device makes video conferencing run more smoothly, especially with a large group, but it must be activated and monitored by the host.

Pro Tip: For meetings of six to ten people, sometimes the old-fashioned raising of your physical hand may be the best option. But it’s up to the meeting host. Ask them what they would prefer, and follow that.

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13. Don’t Record the Session or Take Photos Without Prior Permission

In this case, not sharing is caring. The “sharing culture” made popular through social media has little place in video conferencing. Before recording a meeting or capturing a screenshot of the participants, always ask for consent in advance from the full roster of attendees. Knowing that a video conference will be photographed or recorded could have a bearing on what others are willing to discuss.

Manage Yourself

14. Minimize Distractions

While de-activating audio and video features can keep distractions from affecting the other participants, you will need to manage noise and disruptions on your end to give your full attention to the meeting.

Move out of high-traffic zones in your home, keep your door closed, and ask family members to be considerate.

15. Save Snacking for Later

Save snacking for later—or earlier. Eating while on video conference is a no-no. Munching in front of the group while close to the camera—as you are when video conferencing—subjects the participants to an up-close and (too) personal view of your food consumption process.

However, it’s perfectly fine to sip quietly from a glass of water or cup of coffee or tea. If the meeting threatens to last for more than two hours, you may want to ask the host in advance to schedule a five-minute break at the halfway point.

Final Thoughts

Even though bosses are now beginning to ask workers to spend some of their workdays on-site, up to 80 percent will permit employees to work remotely at least part of the time, which means more video conferencing in your future.[3] Mastering these video conferencing etiquette tips will help you dial in—as well as dial back—your participation and demonstrate your unwavering level of engagement to the team.

Featured photo credit: Chris Montgomery via unsplash.com

Reference

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