Fix the Workplace Problems, Not the Symptoms

Fix the Workplace Problems, Not the Symptoms

Steve Polo

“What you did here was cut off the person’s leg, and gave them a golden crutch.” – Sal Chaudry

Recently, a friend of mine wrote an article describing a new product called ‘Wear Space.’  Wear Space is intended to create individual privacy in open office designs. He characterized it as ‘blinders for people.’  Aside from the silly image that phrase conjures, it actually looks like blinders for people.

After I stopped laughing, I had two concerns about this product. One, people need blinders like they need a hole in the head – we’re blind enough already.

We generally suffer from emotional intelligence (EQ) blindness, compassion blindness, leadership blindness, and most sadly, imagination blindness.  So one more thing that separates us from each other and the world around us is a bad thing.

And two, here is yet another product to treat the symptoms of some misconceived thing.  In this case, bad (or mis-applied), office design.  If office design actually supported the work being done, there would be no need for Wear Space.

Most office design (and by most, I kinda mean ‘all’) provides uniform spaces for un-uniformly performed work.  Generic solutions to generic problems – even if you don’t have those problems! Yes, I know all the arguments about ‘providing choice of spaces’ in office environments (please go to my Blog Post to read about ‘choice’), but the question will always remain of what KIND of choices. I digress…

Wear Space is yet another in a long line of ‘fixes’ for bad office design. White noise/Pink noise generators… Babble, by Herman Miller, invented to garble speech for phone call privacy so calls aren’t so distracting…Talk Box, basically a modern telephone booth… hmm. (By the way, a major on-line publication predicted that the office ‘phone booth’ will become the newest, most sought-after office design feature!). And there are the multiple products modeled after traffic stoplights to get people to leave you alone.  The newest one is called, appropriately, Busylight.  It has a green light, and if it has red and yellow lights, I wonder if you have to hurry up and get your interruption in quickly before the light turns red?

’Fixing the symptoms’ is a universal problem.  Wired Magazine had a recent article that suggested ‘fixing’ screen addiction on our phones by buying another phone, that…wait for it…only makes and answers calls!

So how many fixes are required before we start really solving workplace problems?  One simple way to solve the distraction and noise problem – provided your company has a noise problem – is to design offices to let people be quiet and concentrate…doesn’t seem that hard.  But again, understanding how to apply the right solutions to the root problems should be our most important work.  Only with that knowledge can you provide the answer that supports the work being done. If we do that, we’ll never need ‘human blinders’ to help us work better.

By the way, my friend’s name is Derrick Mashore and his website, Space Matters, (a misleading title), connects the broadest of topics on how work gets done.  It is wide-ranging, deep thinking, and provocative.  There is little, if anything, like it, and you should go to the site and follow him right now.

*Photo credit: Panasonic

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