You’ve been to the zoo, right? You know that feeling that you have when walking past the chimpanzees? The one where they’re looking at you as if to say, “What are you staring at? Mind your own business.”
And you kind of feel guilty for a minute, because you’re invading their privacy; maybe they just want to munch on that apple, dangle from a tree or pick bugs off of their kid’s head without being watched.
Well, as it turns out, the chimps get to have the last laugh as more and more offices employing open space plans opt for cubicles with lower walls and glass offices.
A survey by the International Facilities Management Association found that 68 percent of U.S. offices have “open plan” or “open seating” layouts, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
This means all those managers and executives — or anyone using a conference room — are on display for all to see. Much like all those zoo critters.
Reporter Sue Shellenbarger wrote about some of the pros and cons of these modern offices in that Wall Street Journal article:
Less secrecy – Now everyone can see who’s coming in and who’s leaving the boss’s office, how long they’re in there, and what their body language looks like during the meeting. And with long stretches of transparent glass, the company itself projects an image of openness – that they have nothing to hide. This, of course, probably doesn’t stop all that internal speculation and gossip, but at least employees are less likely to feel in the dark when it comes to major shakeups. Plus, now your boss is a little more conspicuous when sneaking in that afternoon nap or glass of scotch.
More open communication – One of the main reasons companies have switched to open floor plans is to encourage more collaboration and discussion between employees and facilitate the free flow of ideas. Instead of having to knock on doors or duck into someone’s cubicle, it’s now easier for people to have quick conversations and brainstorming or troubleshooting sessions.
More natural light and views of the outdoors – Researchers have long touted the benefits of natural light to enhance the mood, productivity and creativity within an office. The introduction of glass walls has made it so that it’s not just the folks with the window offices on the perimeter of the building who get to take advantage of all that nature has to offer.
Lower energy costs – With all the natural light flooding in, the company won’t need to depend on artificial lighting as much, which equals lower electric bills.
Distractions from passersby: You never really get a break from all the action in the office. Especially if you’re on the street level, you might find random pedestrians peeking in at you or even banging on your windows for their own entertainment. Not to mention, all your co-workers walking back and forth all day might make it tough for you to focus on your work.
Feeling like you’re on display – Your little fishbowl might offer plenty of openness and natural light, but it also can make you feel a bit like you’re in some sort of performance-art installation project on the life of the modern middle manager. What if you’re having a rough day and need a good cry? Or, if you have a cold and are sneezing all day? Now everyone gets to watch the show.
No place to have private conversations – When everyone can see who’s stopping in your office and read facial expressions, it can be tough to have those tough conversations. Whether someone is angry and yelling or upset and crying, with glass walls, there’s no escape from the inner-office gossip machine. And pulling the blinds will only add to speculation. Shellenbarger talked to more sensitive supervisors who would hold “private” meetings in public spaces — like the office cafeteria or the local Starbucks — to avoid drawing extra attention.
People walking into walls – Birds aren’t the only things that slam into glass partitions – people do, too. Some companies are adding etching or bubbling to their glass walls at eye level to prevent employees from walking into them unknowingly.
Noise levels – According to the article, 50 to 100 percent more noise can travel through a glass wall than traditional soundproofed drywall. So, not only can everyone see you waving your arms wildly in frustration, chances are they can hear some of what you’re ranting about, too.
No regular doors – Many glass offices forego traditional doors for sliding ones (kind of like you’re going out on to your deck!). Some employees are annoyed by the loss of that back-of-the-door hook for their coat and purse.
Easy idioms – And finally, after you’re done offering constructive criticism to an employee, chances are they’ll remind you that people who live in glass cubicles shouldn’t throw stones.
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