Close the Door to Improve Productivity

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“A team player.” “Works collaboratively with others to find solutions.” You may recognize these phrases from your own resume. Employers like people who are able to work well with others, share ideas and work on problems together to find the best solutions. Working in teams is supposed to build healthy working relationships and spread the work and responsibility, reducing stress. It all sounds very healthy.


Collaboration, as described above, is supposed to improve productivity. But is that a good thing? And does it really work? An article in Inc. Magazine, “Does Collaboration Actually Hurt Productivity?”  proposes that though collaboration is all the rage, it can actually hurt productivity and focus. Also, forcing employees to work together when they would prefer to work alone can add stress to working relationships.


Open floor plans—offices without walls—are supposed to encourage collaboration by making people seem more available. Hospitals, wellness centers and healthcare facilities often use an open-concept design to facilitate communication and a feeling of openness.   While it’s easier to communicate, it’s also easier to communicate to the point that you’re driving co-workers crazy with all the chatter and interruptions. Not everyone can concentrate on work with a jumble of conversations in all corners of an open floor space. No walls mean you can see people walking around, approaching you or engaging other people, which can be very distracting. 


Walls can be comforting in that they provide an inner space that an employee can somewhat control. It also lets employees choose when they want to interact instead of forcing interaction just by proximity.


An article in the Wall Street Journal pointed out that while office walls came down, employees creatively built new ones out of filing cabinets, piles of books and papers or partitions. People like their own space. Sometimes you want to slouch, scratch, or check your phone messages without feeling like you’re on center stage. 


People also get up and find an enclosed space, like a break room or the bathroom to feel the comfort of some walls. All this walking and escaping the open desk pulls people away from work, too. There goes the productivity.


New walls are replacing the old ones, though they don’t define square office footage. Ear buds, for instance, block out the noise and surround an employee with music, creating a defined space, shutting others out. As effective as walls, it puts an employee in too much of his “own little world.” Put an employee in a desk facing a wall wearing ear buds, and you may not be able to break through at all. Such isolation can be disastrous in a hospital or healthcare facility. Just getting her attention takes physically walking up close and even tapping her on the shoulder. Some employees would consider that a serious invasion of personal space.  


A new low-tech product might be the answer to gently telling co-workers that you’re not available, even if you’re sitting in plain sight. It’s called Flockd. Don’t want to be disturbed? You can set Flockd to display a large red “X” which means you’re indisposed, unavailable, “leave me alone!” If you’re open to a chat or conference, turn Flockd around and it displays a friendly pyramid, announcing you’re open for business.


When private offices went out of vogue and were replaced by cubicles, people missed their doors. Doors shut; they keep out distractions. A popular thing to do was put a sign outside your cubicle that said, “The door is closed,” to let others know you didn’t want to be disturbed. Then, flip the sign over and welcome all with a sign reading, “The door is open.” Tools like Flockd may be the answer to the cubicle sign of the 90’s, saving productivity, reducing stress and encouraging collaboration.


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