The competitive aspect of operating alongside co-workers.
The fairness of slacking off, letting one's mind wander, contemplating a hard problem while staring off into space and refraining from typing at a keyboard, maybe running late in the mornings, versus doing "real" work, ass in chair, on time, contributing ideas in meetings and phone calls, producing visible progress...
Whether or not people (who can affect your ability to put a roof over your head) ARE NOTICING YOUR EVERY MOVE.
This is what an open office is does to me. The anxiety induced by others, and their potential for influencing where the rubber meets the road.
I think what matters is whether I think I am being watched by my coworkers (superiors or otherwise). This uses up some part of my brain that needs to focus on my "visual performance" and thus creates stress. But when I do not think I am watched, my creativity goes up and stress drops. For example, I contribute much better in an audio conference or Slack (just text) meetings, than in a video conference or a face to face meeting. In the former case, I am more relaxed and am able to focus on the problem being discussed and in the latter case, not so much. This might be specific to certain personality types but is true for me for sure.
I work remote from my team and thus far I've found that being in person forces me to focus and contribute more, and that I tend to slack off on audio conferences.
Different strokes for different folks?
I would have replaced 'environment' with "prison" for literary effect. But well said nonetheless. Spot on.
I am in a panopticon open-office currently and it is really bad. People shooting nerf darts all the time (one hit me in the eye when I stood up, luckily I wear glasses). People are exceptionally loud. Yesterday the guy in the half-cube next to me was blasting reggae music for 3 hours even after I said "no one wants to hear that". Last Friday our dispatch manager was walking around all the cubes for 2 hours talking as loud as she could because she just got back from vacation. So I told her "Can you stop talking so loudly? I can't concentrate on my work." Her response: "You just started here what 2 weeks ago?" As if that somehow justified being a huge distraction, ok, I am the bad guy cause I don't want to hear you basically shout for hours on end, sure. Then I got asked by my boss if I said all the women in the office are loud. Then I overheard her complaining to another manager, about being told she was being too loud (talking loudly so everyone in the office can hear). They were essentially indirectly taking a jab at me. It is just petty office garbage and totally unprofessional.
I have already started looking at other companies and I've only been here 3 weeks.
That said, I hope your luck turns and something better works out.
Plus, there is no clear direction on what my job role exactly is. I was told project engineer, then I was told Level III Engineer, then I was told I am Level III inside a 3-tiered system, being the level 3 of level 2? All within the span of the last week and a half. It is very off-putting and awkward.
The one perk is that I am salaried non-exempt, so I get paid for overtime. But it is just so disorganized and there seems to be a lot of weird politics going on.
I really don't like most of the team here except for my director. There is only one or two guys who are mature, everyone else acts like they're 15 (the nerf gun shooting, yelling).
I also have basically no control over anything network related or back-end stuff, which is super frustrating because there is so much inefficiency going on it's insane. They haven't automated anything here.
There is so much wrong, it's hard to synthesize it all in one post. But a quick example is that we have literally no automation in place, so level 1 and 2 techs are setting up workstations manually... It's 2017... I mean really?
I am getting micromanaged over stupid little things too by a manager who is not even my direct manager. It is just frustrating.
Oh one more thing, we have a 9:30 "huddle" every morning with the ops team (like 10 guys + manager [not my direct manager]) and we have to say what we're working on, if we're stuck on anything, and what our plan is for the day. Then they read this little quote that is submitted by at least one engineer into a box and we have to guess who it is. It is ultra, ultra cringe inducing and super weird. I've never been in a company that does this. It makes me feel like I work in a daycare.
Sometimes these are empty, designed to create the appearance of an all seeing eye without having the overhead of storing data, wiring, etc.
Yeah, for me the feeling of being implicitly watched and judged all day causes low-level anxiety.
Since you are standing, its easier for you to look at them. Its very likely most of your colleagues find that creepy.
Let's not jump to conclusions.
Also, (IANAL nor MD) i think at any workplace you can ask for a reasonable accommodation if you have that medical paperwork stating that open office causes anxiety to the level of disability. Even without paperwork i think you can just ask for it at many places. For example, we have a cluster of several cubicles on one end of our floor, and some of them are permanently assigned to some employees (I got offered one too because i was b!tching too much and loud about our open office - i declined in order to avoid getting too comfortable and losing that minimal drive that i still have to change the job :)
I went back to my contracting job in an industry that is truly diverse - not just a few token 28 year old women team leads or POC, but actual diversity: middle aged men and women with kids, older devs in their 60s nearing retirement, naturalized citizens from all over the world (instead of the few big countries supplying H1Bs).
It's a much better environment. I'm happy to cover for my 45 year old coworker when she picks up the kids, and she does the same when I need to 'clear my head' by working at Starbucks for the afternoon. We don't stay late and play XBox or have happy hours, and that is fine with me. We're a good team during the day, and content to socialize a few times a year at the holiday party or few other office events.
Its been very refreshing. There is no race to out-hour anyone, my coworkers all support one another vs trying to be competitive and back stabbing. I really thought I might have to consider another line of work at some point, but good places do exist.
Interestingly though, my one real complaint is the "open office." Its not entirely the company's fault, it used to be quite comfortable but they knew they would be growing and leased space in a building that is under construction. Shockingly (/s), its completion is very delayed and now we are starting to get crammed in.
www.reddit.com/r/cbd might be a good place for you to start...
Random conversation in a coffee shop or cafeteria? No problem. People discussing the latest episode of my favorite TV show? Distracting.
Instrumental music, or songs I've heard a million times before? Just noise. A new song with interesting lyrics, or a personal favorite I've been really into lately? Distracting.
Now, since my solution is to shut my door, you'd think I could just say, "Yup, nothing matters" and ignore it. But it just doesn't work that way.
But I realize that this is supposing two idealized coworkers in a perfect vacuum.
What if the relevant conversation is the 6th nearest? Uh Oh!
My point is that open office doesn't really help because you can only really pay attention to the people relatively close to you and then only X conversations at a time anyway (for me, X is usually 1). Any other conversations happening anywhere else, I will miss.
Better would be a "remote work friendly" culture where discussions happen in slack or somewhere async like that. You can then check it when you're not trying to focus and you won't miss things simply because of proximity. Best of all, you don't get distracted from your actual work when you try to focus.
> Why would I ever need to focus on anything at work?
Exactly... better not do any work so you can pay full attention to what everybody else is doing, in case something is relevant to what you're not doing...
Also, I'm a native English speaker. I speak very little Spanish, but when my co-workers converse in Spanish my brain gets completely sidetracked trying to understand what they're saying. It's even worse with they're speaking Spanish on the phone.
It's as if when I can only hear or understand part of the conversation my undisciplined brain sucks up loads of CPU cycles trying to fill in the gaps. So I picked up a pair of sound cancelling headphones and block everything out with white-noise or music. But now my ears sweat...
That's why I listen to techno/trance music. High energy, but intended as pure background, always changing but never distractingly so. Enhances an experience/activity, but never demands your attention; not something you can sit down and listen to for its own sake.
I used to use techno for strictly background/energy, but have come to enjoy some artists independently.
Mostly in the IDM subgenre; Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Koyxen, and Square Pusher have a solid mix of enjoyable music that doesn't distract.
In a coffee shop, you can be more relaxed, enjoy the environment, enjoy the hustle and bustle and dip in and out of intense concentration without caring who's judging you. It's just a more natural way to be and allows you to think clearly with a nice rhythm. Needless to say, I have spent a number of very productive hours in the coffee shops of London!
Says the attention deficited introvert in his very quiet house far, far out in the boondocks.
Home is a very bad place for me to try to focus because I'm constantly reminded of things that need to be fixed, painted, washed, etc. And if there are other humans in the home it's even worse because you know I could be socializing with them, helping them with their homework, fixing their computer problems...
So a coffee shop is an improvement because a) Starbucks people are responsible for fixing the plumbing problems and b) I don't know anyone there.
Now that I have a job, I'll often go to coffee shops if I work on the weekend. And, again, it's because doing it by myself, at home, feels very isolating. Even though I like having time to myself late in the evening, it's rare that I want no social interaction during the day. And if I need to get work done during that day, I'll often use a coffee shop.
And oftentimes it's the novelty of a place that helps inspire some creativity when it comes to writing.
As others have pointed out, it's hard to shut out conversation from coworkers especially if you don't know if they are talking about work related to you. But when you're in public, you know those conversations don't pertain to you and you can feel no back-of-the-mind guilt about shutting them out (which, as an introvert worrying about others' thoughts, _is_ an issue).
What you describe has nothing to do with being introverted.
To keep home and work separate. Maybe working from home for some is perceived as never leaving work.
That's a glass half-full/half-empty approach; conversely, I end up being more productive, working more minutes, taking less breaks to socialize/browse. One benefit I didn't recognize immediately is that I gained valuable time by being able to eat at my own pace, often while working, rather than worrying about a sustenance/obligations time management equation with my lunch break every day when I should be working.
I no longer wake up dreading going to work. I get to get up at a normal hour, feed the family every meal, and spend about an hour every morning reading. A more convenient workplace, for me, does not exist; people are different. Every day feels like hours have been added to my life.
Home can be the same - I have neighbors. I can hear them from time to time. Headphones, though, are a solution, but so is just general background music. Some times of day/night are much better than others, but I don't always get the luxury of doing stuff at those times. All this said, I like working at home.
On the other hand, a coffee shop is filled with near-constant hums of noise. Park, restaurant, etc are all the same. Since no one noise jumps out to grab my attention, I'm actually less distracted. No one cares I'm there for the most part (libraries aren't so good at this bit, but are better now that I'm older).
The other positive of working at a coffee shop is the change of environment often brings a sort of creativity. I find this especially so if I've walked a bit to get there, and even more so when I'm out of town or out of country. Granted, I'm generally working on artwork instead of "real work", so maybe this bit is just me.
I regularly work out of coffee shops, for hours and hours at a time even, and unless you absolutely dread even the slightest interactions, "Hey is someone sitting there?", other patrons generally leave you to your devices figurative and literal. If you do summon the courage to talk to people, you get a nice mix of regular baristas and patrons as well as a revolving door of new faces to meet and exercise your social and networking skills.
The tradeoff for a few bucks a day was worth it to me. I can't afford a co-working space and while that would probably be better for long-term professional networking, you can't deny the breadth of people walking into any given Starbucks.
Unlike others in this extended thread, I can't focus with people talking nearby or the music on the shop's speakers, so I put on the headphones with ambient music, classical, or white noise to keep out distractions.
Bad internet. Gigabit, but they filter/firewall the heck out of it.
No coffee/snacks allowed
Bad hours. Some days they open at noon, some days they close at 6p, never open after 8p or before 10a
I understand this can vary significantly based on location, but this is what I have noticed in my city.
I guess social pressure won out in the end when even people close to me thought I wasn't doing anything. So finding myself in a similar situation to then, I stay for a few more hours (a little over the length of a charge and recharging to full; I don't take lunch breaks myself). I probably am more productive overall, but there's lots of factors to take into account (hopefully I got more skilled) and I'd say the biggest change is the more creative processes occuring in situ rather than strewn about the day. I also check my e-mails a little more often now ;-).
I can tune out conversations, even if the participants are people I know. A good headset comes in handy too.
I agree with the article in that some noise level helps. In fact I'd go so far as to say occasional human interactions help - it has the effect of drawing your mind out of the details of a problem and drop it back in from a high altitude (when you re-engage after the interaction), which is a process that aids problem-solving.
Fun anecdotal "evidence": there was this exam I was preparing for, for months, and then my brother informed me that he will be coming down for a month-long visit. I told myself immediately that the duration of his stay is going to be all about damage-control; we're going to spend a lot of time together, so I won't be able to put in a lot of hours, which of course means my productivity would drop. A couple of months later after the visit, when I was assessing how much I got done in which month - guess which one ended up at the top - the month my brother visited! While the no of hrs had dropped, the "density" of work had gone up.
For me, the absolute perfect background noise is people talking in a language I don't understand. If you're in a big city, there are almost certainly cafes with customers mainly from some linguistic minority -- I've found them to be great places to work.
[on roughly the same principle, I sometimes listen to foreign-language pop music while working, so the vocal aspect becomes just another instrument rather than a source of distraction]
Coming to the office and working in my private office, if nobody else is in the building, comes second.
Working in my office at the office in a normal day when everybody is there, I can maybe get an hour or two of real work done in an eight hour day.
If I had to work in an open office, I'd give myself maybe three days before I was doing things like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLdAVdc4luE
private office and empty building??
Or when a couple of coworkers all have their small children too ill for daycare at the same time. It's a small company...
Convos in offices do.
You attune highly to the latter with reason.
I have some neighbors who can talk for hours about cars, movies and whatever. There is a good chance that I will never have anything work related to do with these guys but I have to listen to these intense discussions for hours.
Also the background noise:
It always amazes me when power fails once a year how quiet and peaceful the whole place gets. You get used to the constant noise and only when it's really quiet you realize how stressful it is.
An similar example would be my reaction to leaf blowers or lawn mowers outside my office. When they come I am always annoyed and bothered. However equally disturbing or loud (if you want to call it that) noises I typically don't care about. It's the 'hear it goes again!' that makes it (to me at least) disturbing.
I soon stopped because it was full of high school students who didn't want to be there and the sound of a hushed conversation against a backdrop of silence was really distracting.
I quickly started going to foodcourts instead. Those are better than coffee shops for me. There's a lot more white-noise and less pressure to order anything because no vendor feels you're taking 'their space'.
Outlets were a bit harder but doable but outweighed by food choice at meal times and ability to run quick errands if needed.
This was from Waverley Library to Westfield's food court in Bondi Junction in 2012 fwiw.
A coffee shop is (usually) a threat-free environment; free of sudden power struggle, simply because I am effectively "alone".
- Air humidifier
- Boose QC35
- 27 inch 4k monitor
- Mechanical keyboard
- Gaming mouspad + gaming mouse
- Huge desk
I seriously don't get why would anyone go to coffee shops to work. Seems totally counter-intuitive to me.
Staring at 13 inch screen without mouse and using not-so-good keyboard seems just waste of my time. Not to mention small tables they have there.
I've never known an environment like the one you describe, but it may surprise you that a relatively luddite setup can go a long way once you're accustomed to it.
- just focus on some non coding task (presentation, report, or what ever)
- focus on a single problem
- code something from scratch
All those are slightly easier when I don't have a huge screen, or the fastest internet (or some barrier to using the internet), or the perfect chair.
unless an open office plan includes the management all it does is further enforce the power structure in place. first people offices to cubicles, but that became acceptable because you still had the walls to give you defined space, now that those go it is the last bastion where you can be isolated is lost.
I still have something like this, Herman Miller cube with an extra moveable privacy wall out of the way of main traffic. After this thread it's feeling like a bit of heaven. It has an additional cupboard and garment locker to my left and a rolling, padded stool, drawer set. Ample desk space and modular shelving units. I'm spoiled, apparently.
i decided to pay for google play music, it's probably my favorite paid service since i got it almost a year ago.
cmd.fm and jamendo are also pretty fantastic
Digitally Imported (https://di.fm) is a fantastic voice-free radio network with over 300 channels/genres  for every kind of music (electronic, rock, pop, jazz etc). I use it every day, it's hard to not be productive while listening to their Goa-Psy channel .
I work from home so I started playing it to see how it sounded.
Immediately I felt more relaxed with it on. I'm not sure if this is a good thing, or a bad thing. I probably need to get out more.
Maybe I should work from coffee shops more often instead of from my home office?
In a coffeeshop, almost nobody says anything that triggers that filter, thereby letting me block out that noise more effectively.
The obvious solution is to allow people to select the office environment that works best for them: office, cubicle, open area etc. instead of imposing a one size fits all "solution" from above.
Coffee shop noises are not really "background noises" for me. The noises I hear tend to be the people talking loudly that stick out, the people munching on food, and the people slurping coffee loudly. There are also visual distractions like people coming and going.
I think libraries offer a far better trade off between being somewhere public and being free from many noises.
The only issue is having quite places for the meetings.
One of the best perks of having a work-study job doing maintenance and AV stuff was having a set of keys that allowed getting into out-of-the-way places so you could post up with your tote bag of sources and grind out term papers.
The library only had books, laptops were out of reach for most pockets and the computer labs had about 20 PCs per room.
Offices tend to be only for bosses, or mini-open office with 3 to 4 desks.