How to Do Library Rules in the Office

quiet officeIn 2012, Jason Fried at Basecamp wrote a short post that rocked the world of office culture. He proudly proclaimed the secret to a nice, quiet, productive work environment—following library rules in the office. For a blog post of only 100 words, it garnered a surprising amount of comment. In Jason’s view, this approach works very well. Employees are expected to keep quiet or whisper, to avoid interrupting, and to take louder conversations to a different area.

Not surprisingly, what seems like common sense provoked a firestorm of argument. The complaints were fairly predictable:

  • Instituting library rules infantilizes workers
  • Without the buzz of conversation, creative collaboration can’t happen
  • There’s something very wrong in a workplace where everyone is forced to be silent
  • Silence is more distracting than noise
  • It would be boring to work in a quiet office

It’s Not as Bad as It Sounds

These comments demonstrate some misconceptions about the realities of properly-implemented library rules in the office. For example, they are really guidelines and not “rules” when you are working with adults. Obviously, you don’t have a supervisor going around “shushing” people. The point is to cultivate an environment where people understand the impact their noise has on their coworkers. No one is asked to be silent, just dial down the overall noise level for a quieter atmosphere.

Here are a few ways to transition to a more manageable noise level:

  • Provide zones like the kitchen or break area (away from the concentrated work zones) where people are free to socialize at whatever volume they like.
  • Set up part of the office with lounge-style furnishings for workers who use mobile devices and chat a lot. Those that prefer a heads-down workspace could have cubicles with high walls to shut out noise.
  • Ensure there are private meeting rooms for teams that need to brainstorm. These spaces should be readily available for impromptu brainstorming. Coworkers should be encouraged to politely request that loud conversations be moved to one of these rooms.
  • Let employees know that conference calls and other extended phone conversations should take place in phone booths or other enclosed areas to keep the shared workspace quieter and protect privacy.
  • Post signs asking employees to remember to set their cell phones to vibrate at the start of the workday.
  • Ensure flooring, ceilings, walls, and desk dividers or cubicle wall panels are selected in materials that reduce noise, making it easier to keep the workplace quiet.

A more polite and respectful workplace doesn’t have to crush creativity. In fact, when everyone has more mental space to think because they aren’t fighting the noise, you’ll find that employees are less stressed and more productive.


Exploring Steelcase’s Quiet Spaces Part 3

No matter how noisy the rest of the workplace gets, introverts can feel comfortable when they have a place to retreat and focus. In this final blog post on Steelcase’s Quiet Spaces, we’ll tour a few more of the options and ideas for putting together an oasis of calm. As always, these examples are shown with clear glass so you can see the interior. The real deal features more opacity to provide visual privacy.


StudioBeing quiet doesn’t always mean sitting in silence. Sometimes, it’s best to stretch or even pace around during bouts of creative thinking or problem solving. That’s why the furnishings in this mini-studio space are sparse. Most of the room is left open so employees can spread out. Yoga mats for exercise are optional (and should be sterilized regularly). The Hosu convertible lounge chair can be used as a recliner or a futon for a quick power nap.

Green Room

green roomThe green room in a theater is a place for actors to relax when they aren’t performing. In a similar way, this quiet space serves introverts by getting them “off the stage” for a while so they can just be themselves. This informal destination is designed for socialization that doesn’t feel too overwhelming.

The 90 degree sofa allows coworkers to sit near one another without feeling crowded or being pressured to maintain constant eye contact. The space is designed to facilitate work as well as sharing of digital content. It’s the right spot for alone time or occasional small group activities.

Mind Share

mindshareAccording to the research collected by Steelcase, most collaboration happens in pairs rather than teams. It’s not really necessary to have an entire conference room set aside for these synergistic meetings. The Mind Share space provides room for one-on-one discussions that can be as deep and focused as necessary. It’s bouncing ideas off a trusted partner that can lead to some of the best results. This is also a good place for introverts to brainstorm so they don’t disturb everyone else when they get excited.

The technology integrated into this quiet space includes media:scape to promote active creation and editing of digital content. A whiteboard provides a great surface for visualization—just make sure the ventilation is good enough to deal with the dry erase marker fumes!

That’s it for our coverage of Quiet Spaces. If you do end up incorporating one of these solutions into your office design, let us know how it works out. We’re all ears…


Exploring Steelcase Quiet Spaces Part 2

quiet spacesDo you wish the workplace was more like a library? Everyone would speak in hushed tones. It would be assumed that each person was concentrating hard and shouldn’t have their train of thought interrupted. There would even be secluded nooks for those who like to feel completely alone.

It’s probably not possible to retrain employees to be quiet—sometimes work is the right place to be talkative. But it is possible to provide extra peace, quiet, and privacy for workers who don’t appreciate being in the midst of the action all the time. Last week, we looked at a few of the benefits of the new “Quiet Spaces” from Steelcase. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into some of the features and specs.

be meThe BE ME Place

This version of the Quiet Space includes privacy walls that are semi-opaque to allow light in but keep prying eyes out. The Lagunitas daybeds and benches offer comfortable seating with back pillows that can be used to support forward leaning or reclining postures. The benches are power-enabled to ensure users can recharge their device batteries at the same time they recharge their mental ones. Storage doubles as guest seating or as a place to stash personal gear. Introverts can use this location as a place to unwind and catch up on work or brainstorm new ideas.

FlowThe FLOW Place

When it’s absolutely critical to get the job done without interruption, a lounge-style setting isn’t necessarily the best option. It doesn’t really feel like sitting down to work. But a private-office setup is ideal. That’s the format provided by the FLOW design. It’s based on the Elective Elements collection, with a workstation, additional worksurfaces, filing units, bookshelves, and cushion-topped storage. This will become a favorite place for resource-intensive work since there’s plenty of space for reference materials to be stored or spread out on surfaces for easy visualization. It’s a hot spot for introverts who are up against a deadline and ready to by super-productive.

Next week, we’ll explore several more implementations from this new Steelcase collection. As it turns out, we still have a lot to say about being Quiet.


Exploring Steelcase Quiet Spaces Part 1

quiet spacesThe long-awaited day has arrived, and Steelcase Quiet Spaces have been unveiled. This collection of office architectural components was conceived in collaboration with Susan Cain, noted introvert, TED talker, and bestselling author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. She stands as a calm, firm voice representing employees everywhere who would rather be left alone to do their work. That’s not a small minority. More than 1/3 of workers fall into the introvert category—and their needs aren’t being met in the overly open, hyper-social workspaces of today.

When Susan was talking, Steelcase was listening.

Now, the office furniture giant has made great strides toward creating a more inclusive yet less overwhelming work environment for their shy employees. Quiet Spaces are designed to fill this need even in today’s high-density offices. These spaces meet four basic needs of introverted personalities at work.

Pursuing Excellence

Introverts are consistently the source of some of the best ideas in business—but only when their need to be alone is respected. Employers who provide quiet spaces show that they value what introverted employees bring to the table.

Dialing It Down

Overstimulation is one of the curses of a modern office. Introverts need to have more control over sound levels and lighting to promote comfort and improve their ability to focus.

Enjoying the Setting

Some stimulation is actually desirable for introverts. Organic materials and wood veneers with warm tones and attractive textures help create a safe haven.

quiet spaces 2Avoiding Prying Eyes

For an introvert, a normal day at the office can trigger stage fright. They feel like everyone is looking at them. Having visual privacy, even for short periods of time, provides a chance to relax. (The glass walls in the photo are used to show the interior of the space, the real walls are more opaque.)

The Concept Starts with Architecture and Technology

These small work rooms are built with V.I.A. (Vertical Intelligent Architecture) for real sound privacy. All frames, skins, and junctions are manufactured with full acoustical seals to keep outside noise out—and inside noise in. The intelligent walls can be equipped with built-in monitors to amplify digital content. Lighting is also part of the package, giving users control over the brightness of their refuge.

What about scheduling? The RoomWizard II gives introverts the option to reserve a Steelcase Quiet Space at a moment’s notice or well in advance. That’s handy for workers who know they need to recharge at a specific time each day, such as after a busy, noisy meeting.

Stay tuned next week for more details about Quiet Spaces…


Three High Tech Office Toys

airchargeIs 2014 the year to update your work environment with some high tech office toys? Here are a few that range from simple to extravagant. They could change the way you work, the way you interact with technology, and even how you feel.

What a Novel Koncept!

Even as technology becomes more and more portable, we still need to set it down from time to time—especially to charge it. That could mean setting aside a dedicated area on your desk for this to happen. To save space, you could use a KONCEPT LED task light with aircharge wireless functionality integrated into the base. It tops up your phone, lights your work area, and looks cool all at the same time. With the LED bulb, this accessory actually is cooler than an incandescent lamp. Plus it uses a lot less electricity, even when you’re charging smartphones on it all day long.

cubiiHide a Cubii in Your Cubicle

While your mobile device is recharging on top of your desk, you can energize your own batteries with this tiny under-desk workout station. It’s a compact elliptical trainer that’s designed to let you exercise your lower half while your top half is still typing, clicking, reading, or talking. Since the Cubii hides out of sight and doesn’t make much noise, it’s not obtrusive. Your coworkers will probably think you just fidget in a very rhythmic pattern. The equipment interfaces with popular fitness tracking apps via Bluetooth and a mobile app to let you see how far you’ve gone without even leaving your desk.

tv liftNexus 21 TV Lift

While computer monitors have slimmed down considerably over the past 20 years, they can still hog desk space. When desks double as touch-down spaces for mobile workers (with laptops) or collaboration areas for teams, you need to make a clean sweep. A telescoping TV lift lets you hide a flat screen under or behind the desk until it’s needed. This handy device can also be used to conceal larger monitors in conference rooms or lobby areas. Choose a lift that swivels to bring even more flexibility to how you can use spaces for collaboration.

What high tech office toys caught your eye this year? Let us know in the comments.


Top 10 Most Common Office Noises

What does your office really sound like? If you had to recreate the ambience of your workplace, how realistic would it seem? Sound engineer Iwan Gabovitch has put together a pretty convincing 2 hour segment of office noises on “SoundLikeTube”. It’s a lengthy, looping clip that is designed for use in video or audio productions. Other suggested uses are:

  • Playing it in the background when you need to pretend you’re at work
  • Adding it to the ambient noise of your real office to make your business seem bigger
  • Using it to feel less lonely at a work from home job

In fact, most of us tune out the noise in the office after a while (although it still creates stress at a subconscious level). Here are just a few of the sounds you might hear if you really start listening:

  1. People talking (blah, blah, chatter, laugh, blah, blah)
  2. Office printers running (whir, chug, chug—paper jam!)
  3. Papers being shuffled (rustle, rustle, rustle)
  4. Cell phones vibrating (that buzzing sound of a phone sitting on a desk is still audible with the ringer turned off)
  5. Staplers (Whack! Breathless pause…whack!)
  6. Keyboard and mouse (the click, tap, tap, tap, click never stops)
  7. Music playing from the guy wearing headphones with the volume cranked up (either something you wish you could hear or something you’d like to block out.
  8. Chip or snack containers—arguably one of the most annoying sounds in any office (crinkle, crinkle)
  9. Air conditioning or heating (whoosh, whoosh, hum just at the edge of your hearing range)
  10. File cabinet drawers opening and closing (scrape, thunk, scrape, thunk, someone please get the WD40!)

It’s a wonder anyone can work in an office with all that racket. If you’re ready to start cutting down on the distractions, OBEX can help. We can add height and additional sound reduction to your existing cubicle walls to limit office noise intrusion. For workstations without panels, consider our desktop mounted acoustic panels. Employees can choose to turn their desk into a cube and finally get enough peace and quiet to really concentrate. Click through to see our full range of cubicle panel extenders.


New Office Noise Control Products Revealed at NeoCon 2014

This year, a fresh crop of vendors is rising to address the challenge of office noise control in the modern workpsace. While providing separation between employees at the workstation level is important, there are many other areas of the office that can also be acoustically upgraded for better sound absorption. Here are a few of the newest items available for helping businesses keep the noise down.

See Through Doesn’t Mean “Hear Through”

Glass Cover 1Glass is a lovely architectural component, but it poses special challenges for acoustic control. If the glass is too thin, sound can pass right through, and there’s no confidentiality. If it’s too dense, sound bounces right back into the workspace and reverberates. Unika Vaev is addressing this issue with “Glass Cover”—a 100% wool felt product that can be installed in attractive shapes and patterns to add visual interest and sound absorption to expansive glass walls.

Let the Sky Fold

skyfoldSKYFOLD sounds like the name of a James Bond thriller, and the special effects are certainly something to see. This vertically foldable operative wall system accordions down from the ceiling, providing an instant reduction in noise on both sides of the panel. The STC rating is as high as 60, guaranteeing that meetings stay “top secret”. The system is electric rather than manual, for a very hush, hush operation. These motorized panels are available in a wide range of sizes and have even been installed at Texas A&M to divide up lecture rooms to host multiple simultaneous presentations.

Modern, Mobile, Modi

Modi Screen 2The Modi screen is a new take on the mobile acoustic privacy screen. It features a wood core with acoustic panels of wool felt (that seems to be the textile of the year), and can be provided in a number of different colors. The wheel can be outfitted in a contrasting hue for added whimsy. There’s a handy handle on the side so the screen is easy to tote from one workstation to another. This might even make a nice temporary door for a cubicle.

What new tools will you use to bring acoustic balance to your offices this year? Let us know in the comments.


What Do Business Professionals Think about Open Office Design?

As business owners, we all have a lot to learn from one another. If you want to get your finger on the pulse of the small business community, check out the Succeed: Small Business Network on LinkedIn. This group of 80,000 business professionals offers a wide variety of perspectives on just about any topic you can imagine. For example, here’s a snapshot of their opinions on open office design.

  • If a job involves sensitive information, an enclosed office is a necessity.
  • Open plans work best for people who are in and out of the office—not those who are there the entire workday.
  • Closed floor plans require workers to schedule time together, reducing interruptions during the regular workday and potentially increasing productivity during meetings.
  • Phone work (from cold calling to conference calls) is difficult in an open office environment.
  • An open office may help with creating a team environment for large projects. It seems to work well for strategists and creative professionals.
  • High cubicles that are reconfigurable would make a reasonable substitute for private offices—especially if they could be equipped with doors.
  • Open office works best when coworkers need to interact face-to-face frequently throughout the day.
  • Working with too many people around is distracting. Having a few people work synergistically together in a small office is better than having a completely open room with no divisions.

There’s one point of agreement: The best configuration depends on the type of work being done.

Can You Make an Open Office Work?

Open office layouts with no private offices and no cubicles can be very challenging. In the words of one management consultant: “An open environment is just an ad hoc meeting with no agenda or deadline peppered with interruptions, phone calls and extraneous noise.” If you must make do with an open office plan, here’s what it takes to help workers stay productive.

  1. Encourage respectful social interactions. Lack of privacy is a big problem. When people are in each other’s business all the time, it can be an HR nightmare. Put reasonable policies and guidelines in place along with a mechanism to enforce them fairly.
  2. If much of the work being done requires intense concentration, there need to be rules about “quiet time”. Or, give employees the freedom to seek out a quieter temporary workspace such as an empty office or conference room without fear of being reprimanded for not being at their desk.
  3. Educate workers about introversion. Open office layouts unfairly penalize workers who aren’t “social butterflies”, even though excessive socializing isn’t part of the job description and actually distracts from productive work. Help employees understand that some people simply need less chit-chat to feel like part of the team.

If you’re really concerned about saving space, rethink why you want everyone in the office. Work that requires isolation might be done remotely. Consider letting some employees work from home or another location.


What to Learn at NeoCon 2014

Are you going to NeoCon 2014 in Chicago? Registration is still open, and you won’t want to miss the seminars if you’re in town. Here are a few presentations that could make a big difference for employee engagement, satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

Getting Space Right

On Monday, June 9th, Dean Strombon and Sven Govaars from Gensler offer a talk on ‘Happiness by Design: a Capital Idea’. They’ll cover how to measure employee happiness and how to apply these insights to workplace design to improve employee wellbeing. Don’t worry; build happy!

One of the reasons so many employees feel stressed is no doubt the shrinking of the work environment. Today, many companies expect the workforce to thrive in less than 100 square feet per person. Kimberly Marks, president of the Marks Design Group, offers her perspective on how to deal with the design limitations inherent in working with small spaces. The seminar is ‘Occupant Load Explosion’ and it’s also on Monday.

Turning Down the Volume

Acoustics is a topic that’s covered on Monday and Wednesday. SHP Leading Design architect Allison McKenzie discusses ‘Acoustics: The Sound of Sustainable Design.’ She’ll teach you about the difference between Sound Transmission Class (STC) and Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC). Allison will also talk in detail about how acoustics meshes with LEED prerequisites and credits.

Why do 60% of employees say noise makes it difficult for them to perform their work? On Wednesday, Devorie Brown from Commercial Studio of Interior Design discusses the reported statistics about noise in the workplace. She will help participants learn to identify noise sources and create strategies to reduce distractions and create an optimal acoustic environment. Of course, you don’t have to go to NeoCon to get started with a noise reduction plan—we can help you at any time.

If you do attend NeoCon 2014, be sure to share your comments about your favorite seminars here.


Office Productivity for IT Workers Examined

_17O9534How is it possible that some IT workers are ten times more productive than others? Is it because they are more highly educated? Does higher performance correlate to more years of experience? Are top performers simply born smarter? Is a person’s ability to turn in great work linked to a generous salary? According to office productivity research from PdK Consulting, none of these factors are as critical as you might suppose. The day-to-day work environment has a huge impact on software developers’ ability to churn out error free, high quality code.

What Makes the Best So Much Better Than the Worst?

If you haven’t read about the famous “Coding war games”, this study measured the productivity of 600 programmers in over 90 different companies. Then, the participants in the top 25% were surveyed and their answers compared to those in the bottom 25% to detect any relevant variables. Having an acceptably quiet and private workspace were very significant factors, as was the ability to avoid taking phone calls or being interrupted by coworkers. In other words, being left alone to do the job they were hired to do was the ideal working situation. The same likely holds true outside the software development arena for other jobs that require dedicated focus.

Achieving Better Working Conditions Shouldn’t Be a Fight

The best and fastest programmers outworked the least productive by 10:1. However, even the average performers were more than twice as productive as those who were least productive. It isn’t difficult to imagine that even incremental improvements in noise control and privacy could have a substantial effect on helping knowledge workers be more efficient.

Are You Creating or Attracting Highly Productive Workers?

There are obvious limitations to this study given its subjective nature. For example, actual noise levels were not measured—participants simply reported whether they felt distracted by workplace noise. However, others studies that have objectively measured office noise confirm that certain types of sound (particularly human conversation) are highly disruptive and make it difficult for workers to concentrate.

In any event, the conclusion provided by the research team is worthy of contemplation: “The data presented above does not exactly prove that a better workplace will help people to perform better. It may only indicate that people who perform better tend to gravitate toward organizations that provide a better workplace. Does that really matter to you? In the long run, what difference does it make whether quiet, space, and privacy help your current people to do better work or help you to attract and keep better people?”