Way back in March, we took a look at some nefarious cubicle weapons and how cubicle wall extensions might help keep workers safe. Well, the cubicle arms race is far from over. More and more ingenious weapons are being invented all the time. You can check out the latest array at Arnold’s Office Furniture. The list of “Weapons of Mass Cubicle Destruction” include such childhood favorites as the popsicle stick and plastic spoon catapult. On the high tech side, there’s a smartphone guided foam missile launcher. Yes, you do need to click through and see that pricey toy to believe it! Let’s stop this senseless stockpiling of cubicle weaponry. Use cubicle panel extenders as your strategic defense initiative.
Have you ever witnessed the turf wars that can occur between two coworkers who are forced to share a workstation area? Whether it’s a long bench style table or two desks shoved up against each other, one employee always seems to take up more than his or her fair share of space. Their piles of paper and office supplies keep creeping over the line into their neighbor’s territory. This can lead to a lot of angst on the part of the coworker whose space is being encroached upon. The passive aggressive behavior on both sides can get really out of control, raising the tension in the workplace to unbearable levels.
Isn’t it time to put a stop to the petty feuding once and for all? With desktop mounted privacy panels, your employees can set firm boundaries separating their workspaces. They won’t be in your office complaining about how their coworker’s stapler is 2” over the line into their desk space. Just like good fences make good neighbors, our desk dividers make good coworkers.
Despite rumors that the cubicle is going out of fashion, there are still folks out there looking for ways to give this much maligned workstation a makeover. PearsonLloyd, a British design firm, has determined that what employees want isn’t a more open office with less privacy, but secluded areas they can call their own. Thus was born the “Me Place”. These cubicles offer a curved, wraparound wall that encloses the user on up to 3 and a half sides (leaving just a small open doorway for entry and exit). The single, curved panel is nice and high to keep coworkers’ prying eyes from peeping in over the wall. The whole thing is fabric covered to offer sound control.
These cubicles aren’t expansive (cozy is probably the term the designer would use) and they offer just a worksurface, a shelf, a task light and a hanger. This means they have somewhat less functionality than today’s high-end cubicles that feature storage space, tool rails, cable raceways, and much more. What sets the Me Place apart is that each cubicle is…set apart. They don’t share walls with each other. Instead, each unit is separate from the others. This means they can be rearranged across a floor plan very easily. However, making every single cubicle separate with walkways between also means they don’t make the most efficient use of space.
That’s one reason we don’t predict the Me Place will catch on in most work environments. Space simply costs too much to make this design attractive to employers. Fortunately, there is some middle ground between these isolated cubes and a totally open office with benching workstations and no privacy. Our new desk mounted privacy panels provide both visual seclusion and noise control. They can be fitted to your existing desks or worktables for a cost-effective makeover that takes only a few minutes.
All over the blogosphere, office furniture writers recognize that an increasing number of employees are dissatisfied with the modern open office plan. This week, Arnold’s Office Furniture has a click-worthy blog post that offers advice for employers on how to provide workers with some much needed privacy. Some of the ideas are unexpected and quirky, so be sure to stop by and give the post a read.
The top tip has to do with finding ways to cover up noise. Sound masking systems are mentioned as one solution. But there’s always the more old fashioned idea of putting up physical sound-absorbing barriers to cut unwanted noise. OBEX panel products have the advantage of offering two benefits for the price of one – workers get both sound-reduction and visual privacy. That’s something a pair of headphones or a white noise machine can’t provide. Of course, there’s no rule saying you can’t use both physical and technological solutions together for even greater impact!
Last week, we looked at what the folks in Germany have to say about noisy offices. This week, we have some insights to share from Finland. The country’s Institute of Occupational Health conducted a study that showed a measurable decrease in cognitive abilities for employees who worked in cubicles where distractions were common. The specific type of brain function affected was the ability to make effective use of short term memory for tasks like reading, writing, and…wait, what was I saying?
…Sorry, I got distracted again. You get the picture. Human speech is evidently the worst offender when it comes to drawing a person’s attention away from the task at hand. That’s probably because we haven’t yet learned an important lesson in the 200,000 odd years since spoken language was invented: just because someone is talking doesn’t mean they are conveying important information. Our brains give high priority to what people say – even if it’s just idle chit-chat.
So, until we can train our brains to ignore the conversations going on around us, we need tools that address the volume of the chatter. One increasingly popular item for workplaces that need to limit voice distractions is the pink noise machine. This technology takes the “If you can’t beat them, join them” approach to problem solving. It actually increases noise in the frequency of the human voice. The whooshing sound effectively muddles the sound of speech, making it indistinct. Apparently, this keeps the brain from being over-stimulated by conversations. Instead, it makes the hubbub of the office into background noise that can be easily blocked out.
Note: Acoustic privacy shields (cubicle extenders and desk-mounted panels) are another piece of equipment every office should have to help combat distractions. Give us a call or use our contact form to get started with your order today!
We’ve written before about studies done in the US and Australia showing that workplace noise and distractions are harmful. Now, here’s another piece of evidence demonstrating that excessive office noise is bad for work productivity. 1,000 German employees in jobs requiring high levels of concentration were surveyed about their work environment. They said even the noise from equipment such as printers can disrupt their ability to focus. A couple of the recommendations for reducing unnecessary noise included:
- Limiting traffic through areas where workers are trying to concentrate
- Moving “collaborative” discussions to designated areas such as meeting rooms
- Using noise-dampening materials (our acoustic fabric panel extenders would fit in this category)
NeoCon 2012 was a blast! What a great opportunity for networking and a great venue to launch a new product like our desk-mounted privacy panels! Of course, half the fun of being at NeoCon is being exposed to so many fantastic new products and concepts from other manufacturers in the office furniture industry. This year, a lot of companies were really “Thinking Big”. For example, Knoll is seeking to revolutionize how we think about work and how it affects office design.
As usual BI Watercooler is on top of reporting this news in concise terms. Check out their blog post for an explanation of the 3 types of workspaces Knoll says can be found in a typical office (focus, shared, and team work) and the 5 types of “activity spaces” that employers should create to support today’s “distributed” work patterns. In simple terms, the old idea of creating separate types of work spaces for different categories of workers doesn’t necessarily make sense when it comes to making the most of your office space. In an average work day, the same employee might need to engage in a wide variety of activities. This means they will require access to a variety of spaces complete with office furniture that supports their current activity.
Knoll put together a “virtual” showroom so those of you who didn’t make it to NeoCon can still view this concept in action. You can see in their blueprint how “Refuge” spaces for heads down work are co-located with “Enclave” spaces for casual collaboration among small groups. That approach makes a lot more sense to us than the trend toward making an office totally open plan with no panels or dividers. That kind of setup supports only the collaborative idea of work and doesn’t reserve any space for work that requires solitude and concentration.
We definitely see our OBEX products meshing with this new vision for creating a blended workspace that supports a broad range of activities. Our panels are easy to add to any cubicle or desk to instantly create a “refuge” space for focused work.
That’s the question one poster at “OfficeWalkers” asks. Laura wants to use a treadmill at work to get more fit. However, there’s the issue of noise to consider. Will the swooshing sound of the workout equipment disturb cubicle neighbors?
Thomas thinks that’s a question that can only be answered on an office by office basis: “The acoustics in each office are different, but more importantly the nature of the work thus politics. I doubt if you can put in a treadmill in a cube land where they do software development without someone complaining. Now if it’s customer service where everyone is on the phone talking, I can buy that.”
He’s probably right. Some office environments and cultures are a lot more accepting of a little extra white noise than others. Of course, if you let coworkers take turns on the treadmill, more might be willing to put up with it. Increasing the height of cubicle walls to add more sound shielding is another way to make the office more treadmill friendly.
OK, so The Onion isn’t exactly a real news source on a par with the NYT or the WSJ. But it is a great read when you need a little humor to brighten the work day. This article on how Goldman Sachs is supposedly sequestering its single honest and decent employee in a secluded cubicle is right on the money. It describes the lengths to which a morally bankrupt employer must go to preserve the innocence of such a worker. The tiny cubicle with its head high walls serves as a sanctuary from the surrounding environment of corporate malfeasance. The worker within is protected from any communication with management so he won’t accidentally learn of fraudulent activities that he would then be forced to report to the authorities. All he has to do each day is avoid intentionally breaking the law. Nice work if you can get it!
On a More Serious Note:
Have you ever noticed that undesirable employee behaviors seem to be contagious at work? Do you ever wish you could take all your best and brightest employees and separate them from the type of poorly performing coworkers whose bad habits are sure to rub off on them? Perhaps there’s a way to do that without having to be too obvious about it.
You don’t have to physically move your employees to cut down on the cross-pollination of bad attitudes and office gossip. Instead, consider simply increasing the height of the cubicle walls in strategic locations. Panel extenders let you set up visual and auditory barriers that can direct the flow of conversation to bypass cubicles where workers need to be able to concentrate. These boundaries can give your cheerful and motivated employees the room they need to grow and flourish!
In May, the New York Times addressed the problem of workplace noise head on in an article that highlights the many challenges posed by open office layouts. As low or non-existent cubicle walls have become the norm in many modern offices, employee dissatisfaction and distraction levels are soaring. One quote from the article is especially telling:
“You talk to more people in an open office, but I think you have fewer meaningful conversations,” said Jonathan McClelland, an energy consultant working in the loft. “You end up getting interrupted a lot by people’s random thoughts.” That’s hitting the nail right on the head. You want communication in any office, but it’s essential to value quality over quantity.
In response to this pervasive problem, businesses are scrambling to re-establish some sense of privacy and noise control. Sound masking “pink noise” technology and acoustic materials are playing a big role in dampening the buzz in offices. Many employees simply wear headphones all day long to block out unwanted conversations. That’s far more isolating than high cubicle walls could ever be! We prefer to offer panel extenders that limit noise without forcing workers to literally cover their ears so they can concentrate.