It’s not often the New York Times is interested in office design, so when it does it probably means something important. In a recently published article, it would be reasonable to conclude not only that we increasingly share common working cultures with our friends over the pond but also that we are distracted and annoyed by the same things. Not least by the background din and disturbing sounds made by our colleagues.
Of course we’ve reached this point by different routes. Workers in the UK were never often holed up in the cubicles we associate with offices in the US, but we did have the even more substantial walls of cellular offices to shield us from the racket made by our co-workers. In both countries the problems of poor acoustics and lack of privacy have been exacerbated by the shrinking of workstations as firms take advantage of smaller technology to fit more people into open plan. We can’t help but agree with the people in the article that the solutions are broad ranging. Office design, culture, management and plain old courtesy all have a role to play in dealing with the situation. It’s essential that we do this if we are not to undermine the gains associated with open plan working.