Monthly Archives: January 2015

The open-office trend is destroying the workplace.

This title could have been seen in the 1970s when open office systems were born.
Then walls came down as organizational structures flattened and knowledge work became valued. Now the cry is from today’s knowledge workers and their managers.

Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace.
Workplaces need more walls, not fewer

By Lindsey Kaufman December 30, 2014
Lindsey Kaufman works in advertising and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her personal essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Our Town Downtown and xoJane.

A year ago, my boss announced that our large New York ad agency would be moving to an open office. After nine years as a senior writer, I was forced to trade in my private office for a seat at a long, shared table. It felt like my boss had ripped off my clothes and left me standing in my skivvies.

Our new, modern Tribeca office was beautifully airy, and yet remarkably oppressive. Nothing was private. On the first day, I took my seat at the table assigned to our creative department, next to a nice woman who I suspect was an air horn in a former life. All day, there was constant shuffling, yelling, and laughing, along with loud music piped through a PA system. As an excessive water drinker, I feared my co-workers were tallying my frequent bathroom trips. At day’s end, I bid adieu to the 12 pairs of eyes I felt judging my 5:04 p.m. departure time. I beelined to the Beats store to purchase their best noise-cancelling headphones in an unmistakably visible neon blue.

Despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country. Now, about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association. Silicon Valley has been the leader in bringing down the dividers. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Goldman Sachs and American Express are all adherents. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisted famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers. And as a businessman, Michael Bloomberg was an early adopter of the open-space trend, saying it promoted transparency and fairness. He famously carried the model into city hall when he became mayor of New York, making “the Bullpen” a symbol of open communication and accessibility to the city’s chief.

These new floor plans are ideal for maximizing a company’s space while minimizing costs. Bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees, ensuring clandestine porn-watching, constant social media-browsing and unlimited personal cellphone use isn’t occupying billing hours. But employers are getting a false sense of improved productivity. A 2013 study found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. Meanwhile, “ease of interaction” with colleagues — the problem that open offices profess to fix — was cited as a problem by fewer than 10 percent of workers in any type of office setting. In fact, those with private offices were least likely to identify their ability to communicate with colleagues as an issue. In a previous study, researchers concluded that “the loss of productivity due to noise distraction … was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices.”

The New Yorker, in a review of research on this nouveau workplace design, determined that the benefits in building camaraderie simply mask the negative effects on work performance. While employees feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Furthermore, a sense of privacy boosts job performance, while the opposite can cause feelings of helplessness. In addition to the distractions, my colleagues and I have been more vulnerable to illness. Last flu season took down a succession of my co-workers like dominoes.

As the new space intended, I’ve formed interesting, unexpected bonds with my cohorts. But my personal performance at work has hit an all-time low. Each day, my associates and I are seated at a table staring at each other, having an ongoing 12-person conversation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s like being in middle school with a bunch of adults. Those who have worked in private offices for decades have proven to be the most vociferous and rowdy. They haven’t had to consider how their loud habits affect others, so they shout ideas at each other across the table and rehash jokes of yore. As a result, I can only work effectively during times when no one else is around, or if I isolate myself in one of the small, constantly sought-after, glass-windowed meeting rooms around the perimeter.

If employers want to make the open-office model work, they have to take measures to improve work efficiency. For one, they should create more private areas — ones without fishbowl windows. Also, they should implement rules on when interaction should be limited. For instance, when a colleague has on headphones, it’s a sign that you should come back another time or just send an e-mail. And please, let’s eliminate the music that blankets our workspaces. Metallica at 3 p.m. isn’t always compatible with meeting a 4 p.m. deadline.

On the other hand, companies could simply join another trend — allowing employees to work from home. That model has proven to boost productivity, with employees working more hours and taking fewer breaks. On top of that, there are fewer interruptions when employees work remotely. At home, my greatest distraction is the refrigerator.  ​

Green Condo Checklist

(Prepared for IIDEX2009 by the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Green Building Council)

What to look for when buying a New Condo
• Look for recognized green building standards like LEED® or BOMA BESt® to ensure your condo building is built
according to verifiable sustainability standards.
• Are water, electric and gas use individually metered? This results in dramatically increased self-imposed
conservation in condo units when compared to common shared heating, electric and gas. Insist on a programmable
thermostat and turn it down in the winter and up in the summer.
• Is the condo located near your place of work? Can you walk to work? Is it near public transit? In the neighborhood
cyclist and pedestrian friendly?
• Does the property include a variety of permeable surface areas like gardens, lawns and water features?
• Does the building include a green roof?
Water and Energy
• Are the plumbing fixtures water efficient?
• Does the condo support the use of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal?
• Are lighting fixtures energy efficient? Do they use CFL (compact fluorescent) and LED bulbs?
• Is waste water or run-off water harvested and reused for non-potable uses? Is the outdoor environment landscaped to
efficiently minimize irrigation water?
• Are the included standard fixtures Energy Star® compliant? Are there incentives offered by the condo to purchase
high-efficiency appliances?
• Does the condo incorporate high efficiency windows and doors. Are effective blinds pre installed? Are they properly
placed in the design of the condo unit?
• What is the ratio of the outside walls to windows? In most buildings 40% window to 60% wall provides the best balance of
insulation and daylight and views.
Sustainable Materials
• Are the materials used in construction or finishing of the condo such as cabinets, floors and furniture made from
renewable resources? Do they have high recycled content? Have products been sources locally?
Indoor Environmental Quality
• Are the flooring, paint and other finishes non-toxic with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs)?
• How is the fresh air delivered to the suites? Is it delivered from the corridor under the doors of the suite or is
it ducted separately to each suite to minimize risk of odor transfer?
• Is energy recovered from the air exhausted from the suites before being released outdoors? This is typically done
in a dedicated heat recovery ventilator (HRV), or a ventral energy recovery ventilator (ERV).

How to Green your Existing Condo
• Where possible replace existing light fixtures and bulbs with modern fixtures and energy efficient compact fluorescent and
LED bulbs to reap significant energy savings.
• Install Energy Star® light fixtures and appliances where possible.
• Turn down your hot water heater to a reasonable temperature.
• Install ceiling fans to circulate cool or warm air throughout your condo space. This can be particularly effective
with new loft style condos with high ceilings.
• Use high efficiency LED lighting during the holidays and turn them off when you’re not enjoying them.
• Use a programmable thermostat to reduce energy costs at night or when you are away.
• Repair plumbing leaks and conserve water by selecting water-efficient plumbing products like faucets, shower heads
and toilets. Use less water when possible.
• Choose natural or sustainable flooring products and non-off gassing carpeting made from sustainable materials.
• Institute waste reduction and recycling programs to help reduce overall waste to landfill and reduce the costs associated with waste disposal.

Get involved with your condo board

• Start a “Green Best Practices Committee” to help your condo corporation and board focus on the greening of the
common areas of your condo.
• Ensure that an up to date energy audit has been conducted and that cost-effective energy conservation measures are
being implemented.
• Implement green cleaning, outdoor maintenance, waste and pest management strategies.
• Develop policies for future renovations to ensure that the work minimizes impacts on the waster stream, indoor air
quality, and energy consumption.

What is Ecology?

Merriam-Webster describes ecology as ” 1) a branch of science concerned with the interrelationship of organisms and their environments; and 2) the totality or pattern of relations between organisms and their environment.”

Interrelationship is the key word: Interrelationship between us, our natural environment and our built environment – the whole with all its parts. Changing any one part will cause changes somewhere else. The changes will be more than just the ripple of a stone on the surface of a pond. The changes will alter the complex pattern of their interrelationships.

Ecological Design, therefore considers all the interrelationships between systems in the design process from conception through use to post-occupancy. The result of ecological design an only be holistic and truly sustainable. Our goal is make any changes positive for us and for the natural world which we inhabit.

Greening Your Office 1

It’s not as difficult as you might expect to green your office. Even if you’re a tenant in a small building you can make a difference. Here’s an easy way to start. The easiest place to start is in waste reduction.

Step 1: Just like we do at home, we can separate garbage from recycling and compost. How? Replace all trash bins under the desk with recycle paper only bins (or just re-assign the bins you have). Provide recycle cans and bottles, trash and compost disposal bins at coffee stations or lunch rooms only. This simple initiative has several benefits:

  1. Each individual becomes aware of how much trash we create. With awareness comes the opportunity for reduction. For example, if most of your take-out lunch packaging is not recyclable, ask your food vendor to consider a change. If enough customers ask for the change, the vendor may comply.
  2. Compostable waste such as apple cores and banana peels become aromatic before the end of the work-day: in today’s open-office environment this affects the whole neighborhood. If your under-desk bin is not emptied nightly it also invites insects and vermin.
  3. A short walk-break is healthy for an office worker – enjoy the stretch and get the blood circulating.
  4. For the business owner: If under-desk bins contain only clean recyclable paper, a reduced pick-up schedule may be feasible: this could reduce contract cleaning costs.

Why not put recyclable plastic and bottles in the under-desk bin? They contain food and drink residue. See point 2.

To make this work you need to
• Get buy-in. Let everyone know about the change you want to make and their role in it.
• Make sure you have appropriate, well marked recycling, trash and compost receptacles in the designated areas.
• Mark each under-desk bin with a clean paper sign or logo (individuals can participate by marking their own).
• Explain the new procedure to every employee and stress the value of full participation.

Step 2: Make appropriate arrangements for disposal of all waste.