A Room of our Own: Discovering Sanctuary in the Knowledge Age

A Room of our Own - 240x160After a nine year 'sabbatical', I re-joined the corporate race earlier this month.  With my glossy visage swinging merrily on a lanyard, the bliss of  IT on short dial and equipped with my securID for remote intranet access, from home office to open plan, this is back to the future for me.

In nine years, nothing had changed, yet everything is different.  Unexpectedly the question on the lips of my nearest and dearest was 'have you got your own office?'.  Of course I haven't; I didn't as a big four audit director in 2005, so it wasn't going to be on the cards deep in the Knowledge Age of 2014.  But it amused me how non-corporates still equate status with walled space.  And I have to admit to some trepidation as to how my powers of concentration would stand up to a backdrop of banter, one-sided telecons and plain old heckling!

But that's where everything was different.  Connectivity in 2014 is whole generation more mature than in 2005.  Here I sit at my workstation, furnished with PC (configured for musculoskeletal health), laptop (for remote working), my personal smart device and my corporate version, not to malign the chunky old landline (on which I have yet to receive a call!).  A rich plethora of connectivity which conversely allows me to escape to a room of my own within the open office environment.

I admit, I was sceptical. A study by Kim and Dear published in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology decries the received wisdom of open plan offices, concluding that the benefits from interaction and collaboration are insufficient to outweigh the perils of distraction and lack of privacy. 

My reality is somewhat different.  From my first day I was struck first, by the low level of volume and second, by a realisation that hyper-connectivity intensifies our own little worlds, allowing us to create personal space in the greatness of the corporate milieu.  Multi-media gives us the capacity to take more control, we can become human filters of interruption and distraction; it offers us many more choices, work mediums and operating styles.

True, open plan office etiquette is critical.  To love your neighbour, you need to respect their privacy, use judgement in passing them the collaborative baton and control the clamour of your devices.  But once you have struck an optimum modus operandi within your work station cluster, you can reap the benefits of companionship, teamwork and inclusion.  And these are not fluffy nice-to-haves.  Remember as human beings we are wired to connect.  It's a core tenet of human evolution that socialization promotes survival - it's simply not natural to lock ourselves away for hours at a time.  Working from home, on non-client days, I experienced this at first hand, at a level of intensity that invariably prompted me to get out and find human contact once the voice on the radio was no longer enough.

So, this month, a rather different take on the consequences of connectivity; and how refreshing to find a positive angle on an area which seems the butt of daily anguish and ordeal.   We'd be keen to hear your experiences of the open plan working environment, the thrills, the trials and the tribulations?  I love it; the banter and the belonging are still there but hyper connectivity has given me the best of all worlds, but what do you think?


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