Independently Happy

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Open Plan Office

If you’re used to your office or cubical, moving to an open plan office can be miserable and overwhelming. If you find Time Square (or your Facebook feed ) frantic, noisy and distracting (and maybe a little tacky), then you are probably going to struggle in an open plan office. There are ways to cope, though. It will take some time, diligence and creativity, but you can learn how to survive an open plan office.

Protect Your Money-Maker!

A huge part of your well-being is your brain health.

In addition to your current well-being, you have to ensure your future ability to work, create and be happy. Consider a bigger picture than the next big project. Think about bigger projects you could have at subsequent jobs. Or think about your quality of life if/when you retire. You want to take quality care of yourself now to protect your ability to continue functioning at a high level later.

That means taking care of your physical brain.

1. Wear a Helmet.

…when you cycle or anything in which you might bump your head. Protect it from physical damage.

2. Hydrate.

Drink plenty of water to keep it hydrated.

3. Get Plenty Sleep.

Give your glymphatic system plenty of time to keep your brain clean.

4. Feed Your Brain the Right Nutrition.

Give it the fats it needs to create new neural connections. If you want to learn, those pathways need to move the electricity around.

5. Manage Your Stress.

Don’t allow chronic stress to saturate your brain with cortisol residue. The best ways to do that are exercise and meditation. Then sleep.

6. Exercise Your Brain.

Learn new concepts and going deeper into things you already know. Investigate ideas you disagree with.

7. Then there’s the mental part.

Learn to focus your thoughts, so ruminations don’t send you spiraling into panic.

And of course, the physiological stuff affects the mental stuff and the other way around.

We now know that your well-being isn’t management’s responsibility. It’s yours. That includes mental and physical health. Ideally, management would also do it’s part to keep you at your highest creative and productive potential. One of their greatest assets is your output. So why do they wear down and out for the present at the expense of our and their future?

Let’s use..

A Sports Analogy

I bet your favorite team has been in the heat of a good run, maybe a playoff run, only to have a pivotal player suffer an injury.

They can win without him, but the chances aren’t nearly as good. This is the playoffs. One and done. Loser goes home.

The Coach.

The coach’s career depends on wins now. The coaches window is short, significant progress in a short time, or it’s back to an assistant if she’s lucky, but probably college sports or maybe even high school. Then she has to teach a history class too, and she didn’t spend all those hours in the gym to fake her way through the Weimar Republic to a bunch of snot-nosed little brats.

A championship means other teams will start calling the coach’s agent offering a better deal.

The coach needs wins now and wants the injured star player playing now. The star player’s health might pop up now and then in the coach’s mind, but winning now is the coach’s responsibility.

Coaches are like middle management.

The Owner

The owner wants a championship too. Nobody fires the owner though, nobody except the owner. The owner also needs to fill stadium seats for the next decade. Sure a championship will definitely sell tickets for a couple years, but the players. People pay to see players play. If your star plays hurt and ends his career, the owner’s going to have a harder time selling out seats during the next few years of what would have otherwise been that star’s career.

The Owner is Stockholders, the board of directors and probably customers.

Team Doctors and Trainers

Their job is to take care of the players, keep them healthy for the long-term, for their own good because they care, but for the good of the franchise because the franchise pays the bills. Doctors and trainers get championship rings too, though, but she took the Hippocratic oath and she has a duty to the patient. The player. The doctor has the player’s long-term health, his ability to support his family, and to earn a living for as many years as he can.  And to live a long, healthy, happy life.

Put the injured player on IR. (That’s Injured Reserve for the non-sports fans.)

Team Doctors and Trainers are your doctors and trainers. And me.

The Player.

Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

People pay to see players play.

Players wanna get paid. For a long time. They don’t want to end their careers. But he didn’t work all those hours and days in the gym to watch from the sideline as everyone else plays and wins. The player wants a ring too. It’s always been his dream, and the team needs him. His wife needs him too, though, and she and the kids will want him healthy and active 20 or so years from now.

The player ultimately decides. The player gets counsel and advice–very biased advice–from the coach, trainers, doctor and spouse. And Mom.

Hi Mom!

The player has the responsibility. Career. Life. Glory.

You’re the player. I’m the player. Actually, each one of the above characters in our little drama is a player in her respective role. Even the owner isn’t anywhere close to passing responsibility for filling seats on to his son yet.

The shareholders probably don’t know who you are though. I know they don’t know who I am. I only recently blipped on the radar of a few VPs, and it wasn’t for something good. Don’t worry. We ended up buds. Ish.

Let’s Get Back to Your Office

What’s Good for the Company

The company wants to win, so the company will probably do what other companies who are winning do. Things like revoking working from home and stuffing everyone into big, open plan office area, because forcing everyone into each others’ personal space is the only way to generate serendipity.

It worked at IBM and Yahoo, so it’s gotta work here. All we have to do is get them to bump into one another enough. Sparks will fly. Fire will catch. Serendipity. Innovation. Team Work.

Everything is cool when you’re part of a team.

The Open Plan Office Probably Does Work Sometimes

Some collaboration happens. It’s a little easier to turn around and tap someone on the shoulder than it is waiting for them to stop ignoring your email for an hour. You get what you need sooner unless you’re the person who turns off dings and pings to focus on your work.

It’s probably a little more nuanced than the furniture, lights and “cozy” seating. The companies who succeed at serendipity probably do a little more than fill the sardine can.

It might work though.

That doesn’t mean it’s good for you in the long term.

What’s Good for You

I like the open plan office. I’ve got a great seat with a stand-up workstation from which I can see the whole room. Sometimes I just watch everyone. I’m a people person. I like to watch what they do. I’m uber curious about why they do what they do.

Yes, being lost in work is healthy, perhaps even magical. Flow states don’t just feel transcendental. They benefit the brain, mind, heart, soul and body in many wonderful ways.

Being annoyed with questions and problems is annoying.

You’re the player, though.

You gotta play now, but you gotta think about your career and retirement. Your family and friends will want you around, and you’ll want to get around.

Coaches gotta win games now.

They don’t care if you’re an introvert or if I’m obsessed with expanding my mental and creative powers. Middle managers need to ship something innovative now.

Open plan offices are the rage, trend fad now. They’ll be around for several more years. Like them or not, you’re either stuck in one or soon will be.

If, like me, you enjoy the open plan office, then relish and enjoy it. However, remember that this job is temporary. Even if you don’t want to earn for many more years, you’ll still want to learn and create. You’ll want to enjoy quality time with loved ones. Learn to protect your ability to create.

Do Open Plan Offices Actually Work?

In his INC Magazine article 3 Reasons Open Office Plans Are Better After All, ShortStack co-founder Jim Belosic said he put his desk in his company’s open office area, near the front door, next to the kitchen.

His 3 reasons:

  1. You’re in tune to the office vibe.
  2. You’re more approachable.
  3. It improves interoffice communication.

I have nothing against Mr. Beloxic. I admire him in that the crux of his article is that he put himself is in the middle of the open work area. And in his defense, the article is a few years old. However, from the standpoint of an employee, I have issues with each of these reasons.

What About the People?

First, his article’s doesn’t really say how the plans are better for everyone. His three reasons are more about why open offices are better for leaders than for the employees. To his credit, his reasons are why Leaders should also sit in the open work area.

Employees Are Not Open and Honest Around Bosses

The Leader may be in tune with an office vibe, but they won’t know what employees really think. They’ll be in tune with what employees do and say to not get fired, not the true office vibe.

Are Your Offices More Approachable?

I really admire Mr. Belosic for also sitting in a very high traffic section of the open work area. I’d bet that wherever he is, he is quite approachable.

How many leaders sit in the open work area at your place of employment? Does your lead sit next to you? I sit right next to my manager, and his Senior Manager sits a few feet behind us. Both are in the open work area.

But he and one other Senior Manager are the only two in our open work areas. The other Senior Managers and above all have offices. Most of them are very approachable, but the ones who made the decision to go with the open plan office are not in the open work area.

How approachable are the leaders in your company?

How Open Plan Offices Ruin Interoffice Communication in National and Global Companies.

Daily I see co-workers trying to have web conferences with customers colleagues in other cities, states and countries. It is very difficult to hear the person on the other end with all the noise in the room. That noise is also very distracting for the colleague or customer on the other end.

Sure it’s easy to talk to the person next to you or one across the room, but conference calls are more difficult with the extra noise.


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