Thinking Inside the Box

On the opposite side of my co-working desk is a project manager who’s been in meetings since he sat down. His constant voice makes it impossible for me to concentrate. While he gestures wildly and talks at the top of his lungs about some buttons on a website, I look around and realize that I’m the odd one out in this space. Most everyone else is also chatting away on video calls–that is, those who aren’t playing ping-pong.

Anyone in this room who wanted to get focused work done has given up by now, having left for a quieter corner or a different office altogether.

Open spaces promise to bring people together and increase the occurrence of serendipitous meetings–those water cooler or coffee chats where important conversations can happen. But the open-plan office can be challenging for people who need to do deep work, especially during lunchtime or whenever noise levels rise.

The perfect working environment depends on the person just as much as the space. Depending on who uses it and what they want to achieve there, the same office can be heaven or hell.

A workplace is more than a physical place where work is done. The more we learn about how people work, the more we understand that the environment affects work performance in profound, sometimes surprising, ways. Everything in the environment matters: The size of the desk, the availability of natural light, and the air quality. These elements are all predictors of our comfort, our happiness, and ultimately, of our productivity.