Project Management

Cubical Controversy: Can You Hear Me Now?

From the Eye on the Workforce Blog
Workforce management is a key part of project success, but project managers often find it difficult to get trustworthy information on what really works. From interpersonal interactions to big workforce issues we'll look the latest research and proven techniques to find the most effective solutions for your projects.

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Among the indignities we suffer in the modern workplace is the cubicle. Miracles of modern human resource unit warehousing, they enable us to work without privacy or protection from biological infection. There is even the occasional head-scratcher: Someone once told me that they heard a supervisor terminating an employee over the phone from a cubicle. In all this don't forget that the benefit desired was that there would be improved performance from more interaction between workers. That's what the "workstation" sales people told us anyway - just after they showed facilities management drastically lower prices compared to offices.

If you were the type of project manager who wanted to score points with your workforce, what could you do to make a real difference here? A recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology reveals factors that really matter to workers.

  • According to this research, workers in Cubical World were dissatisfied mostly with sound privacy. They had no control over what they heard and they could not keep their own conversations from traveling to other ears.
  • Visual privacy wasthe next frustrating factor. Workers, their desktops and their screens could be seen at any time.
  • Noise level was the third most highly rated item causing dissatisfaction.

Should you care? Does it matter to you if your workers are bothered by gossip from a nearby desk? Should you be concerned if workers see each other shop for underwear online or pick their nose?

It matters to you because one of the top ten important factors affecting employee satisfaction (as reported here previously) is the relationship with immediate supervisor. So here is an opportunity to show that you understand basic daily problems.  In case you don’t have the power to put all your workers in quiet private offices, what can you do about these causes of dissatisfaction? Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Use team meetings to determine if these are current real problems for your workers.
  • Let workers decide for themselves how to respond. Recommend ideas such as people taking conversations into meeting rooms or out of earshot when they are not solving team problems.
  • Help the teams deal with chatty workers by requesting that conversations be kept to a minimum outside of lunch times.
  • Do not violate the respectful quiet yourself.
  • Suggest a polite privacy expectation.

This will not replace other motivational tactics you should use, but it can help as cubicle life is not good. This can help improve team performance as well if distractions are keeping workers from focusing.

Do you have a cubicle horror story? Let me know.

Posted on: December 09, 2013 06:51 AM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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The cubical world is very much a US problem - and actually if cubical workers could see what happens elsewhere they might realise that the don't have it so bad! In most of the rest of the western world people sit in "pods" of 4 or 6 desks, without any dividers between them, and often even pods don't have cubicle-style walls. This is good for working with your immediate team but offers even less sound and visual privacy, and noise is a real problem.

In cubicles and pods, one simple solution to noise issues is headphones - when using phone headphones we tend to talk quieter anyway, and allowing people to listen to music etc through these when not on the phone vastly improves noise privacy and morale.

Hi Joe, your articles are spot on and well used in the workplace management.

thanks for sharing

Interesting article.
Thanks a lot!!

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