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All companies are different.
That seems like a no-brainer.
But it’s important for those who are dissatisfied in their jobs and looking to jump ship. A big part of it is culture, but what about your office space?
I’ve written before about that first “big girl” job that I lost at the beginning of 2017. I loved my coworkers, I liked (for the most part) the work did and the skills I learned from my mentors, but the office layout sucked.
My manager’s office was down a hallway that required security clearance to enter without an escort, so I couldn’t just pop my head in to ask a question. The majority of the office spaces were actual offices with doors – very few people had cubicles, which at first seemed awesome!
Like, what kind of low-level fresh graduate with only 2 guaranteed years gets an office, even if you’ve got to share it with another person?
Yet as time passed, I hated having an office.
Now, this might just be my personality and work style, but I feel more productive when I have the opportunity to talk to people (not my officemate) throughout the day. This flies in the face of Cal Newport’s definition of Deep Work (which I totally stand behind) because distractions by nature are the enemy of deep work.
I get that, and I do occasionally take the time at my current job to book a conference room and keep the distractions to a minimum.
But I hated having an office.
It made me feel isolated and forgotten. I felt unimportant and undervalued because it seemed like no one had time to talk to me about work or help me figure out what more I could be doing. It was lonely to walk to my mentor’s office because she wasn’t answering messages or at a meeting on time only to find her office door closed and locked.
In contrast, at my job now, I have a cubicle. In fact, most people are in cubicles. Offices (like the reserved parking spots) are for the higher-ups. And you know what? I don’t want an office – at least not right now. A bonus is that the offices here have a glass panel next to the door so you can actually see if someone’s in.
In the world of information work, cubicles are often seen as the bane of being productive.
And this makes sense! The more often you’re interrupted or distracted by people talking to or around you, the less likely you are to get into a flow state.
This study shows that it takes up to 23 minutes (PDF warning) after a distraction to get back to the level of focus you were at before the distraction occurred.
Oftentimes, this means that we’re never getting into the flow state, all because of our office environment.
Now, I started this article talking about the benefits of working in an open space, not the detriments.
For people who are social animals and need to talk to another human being at some point during the day, open spaces are great! I never thought of myself as a social animal before, but I can definitely say that after having an office for two years – I love my cubicle.
Another factor to consider is office culture.
At my previous workplace, the culture was to sequester yourself away to do your deep work. As a research institution, that makes sense.
However, culture can make or break where you work, and that culture broke my desire to stay there.
You need to decide what kind of culture you need in your workplace, and that will help you figure out whether you’d do better in a closed-door office environment or in an open space.
Understandably, we don’t really have control over the culture or the office layout.
You might be in an environment and culture that you don’t mesh well with, yet really enjoy the work.
What You Can Do
There are ways to change things up to your advantage no matter where you work.
Establishing set times to check your email, your phone, and Facebook is a good place to start. I use the Forest app that prevents me from doing anything on my phone while planting a virtual tree.
Before you start only checking email once or twice a day, it’s a good idea to check in with your boss to let her know that you’re going to focus on deep work instead of reacting to emails all day.
You might have to phrase it more delicately than that, but that’s the gist of it.
A good pair of earmuffs visually indicates I’m in a focus session.
I also schedule one or two hours at a time in an empty conference room to work without distractions.
It might take some creativity, but it’s definitely possible to take back your focus from the distractions.
Do you find yourself distracted a lot?
Let me know how you’re dealing with them and if you’ve noticed a lack of progress when it happens.
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