Want to spend less time in meetings – and more time actually working? Join the club. A startling new finding about today’s open office environment may help reduce the time we spend meeting with colleagues.
Raise your hand if you’re a fan of today’s open office work environments. Anyone?
From the gum-snapping colleague next to you to the blur of activity to the all-too-frequent “got-a-second?” interruptions, open offices are the places we love to loathe.
So it’s probably too much to ask for us to completely embrace this vast, teeming expanse of coworkers. But recent research does show that open offices may spare us an annoyance we find equally tiresome.
For most of us, meetings are the work equivalent of a trip to the dentist. An estimated 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in them, and 36% of knowledge workers complain that meetings diminish their personal productivity.
So open-office dwellers everywhere should be heartened that, as mentioned in The Wall Street Journal, the more time office workers spend socializing with co-workers, the less time they tend to spend in meetings. In a six-week study in the New York office of the Boston Consulting Group, researchers found that people who stopped more often to chat with random colleagues spent, on average, five fewer hours in long meetings.
So let me get this straight: More time socializing means less time in meetings? Count me in.
Maybe this finding shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, because it underscores what the open office concept is all about: collaboration and knowledge sharing. The open office is a freewheeling place where we’re constantly reaching out to coworkers, seeking input, debating ideas, gather interesting tidbits of information and more.
It isn’t always pretty. But it’s quite effective at accomplishing what I like to call the serendipity of work: Where a quick chat with a coworker turns up a vital piece of information that would have otherwise required hours of digging. Or where a “Hey, I’ve got an idea!” bit of inspiration mushrooms into a collaborative effort that becomes that next big thing.
On top of it all, it appears that the organized chaos of the open office has the added benefit of canceling the need for at least some meetings.
We Can’t Escape the Open Office… So Let’s Make the Best of It
But this is where the benefits of the open office collide with its well-documented downsides. The environment is noisy, chaotic and impersonal, making concentration difficult and interruptions too frequent. That saps productivity and takes a toll on morale. And few employees enjoy feeling like they’re working from a corral.
All are valid criticisms. Organizations that have implemented open office concepts are betting that the upside of added collaboration outweighs the well-known downsides. So it’s up to us – employer and employee alike – to make the open-office concept work.
It begins with accepting open offices for what they truly are: collaborative spaces – and then tweaking our workstyles and embracing tools to help us concentrate amidst the chaos.
As employees, we need to take advantage of employer-provided private meeting spaces, quiet rooms, work-from-home policies and noise-canceling headsets. And if our employers don’t provide them, we need to demand that they do. Why? Because these tools provide access to that zone of concentration that enables us to reflect, think, create value and just plain get our day-to-day tasks done.
Then we need to further fortify our valuable concentration mode against interruptions by faithfully using our “busy” and “do not disturb” status settings.
Let’s face it: few employees are inclined to love the open office, no matter how useful it may be at times. The key to successfully navigating this environment is knowing when to embrace it and when (and how) to avoid it.
Of course, knowing that it helps us spend less time in meetings doesn’t hurt either.
The talk is well worth a mere seven minutes of our time. With the lessons it provides, let’s begin restoring the art of listening to its rightful place.