Thursday, February 17, 2011

In Praise of Doors

I don't have a door at work. I've had jobs where I did have a door, but at the moment I'm not only doorless, I'm in a high-traffic, utterly public cubicle. In fact, as I was typing that last sentence, a salesperson came up and started reading over my shoulder. I wish I were kidding.

While cubicles are a step up from simply having desks sitting out in the open, they still lack a mechanism that has the potential to dramatically increase worker productivity -- a door.

People wonder why today's office worker has the attention span of a 4th grader. They blame Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and all the other attention-sucking tentacles of the Web, but I guarantee a fair part of it has to do with never being left alone.

I can shut off my email, close my browser, send my phone calls to voicemail, and still get interrupted every five minutes. It's hard to prioritize a person standing at your desk. As much as I'd like to click on him or her and set them to "Low Priority" my only option is to deal with them right now. Even if I tell them I'm busy right now and I'd be happy to stop by and interrupt them later, I have already been pulled away to tell them that and write down a note to myself.

This wouldn't happen if we all had doors. In our increasingly digital office we have a wide variety of ways to shut people out when we need to concentrate. In the real world office only certain people have doors and if they need to concentrate or have some private work time, the door gets closed. Sure, people will knock or poke their heads in sometimes, but you've cut down interruptions by a significant amount. Plus you can always lock the door and ignore the knocks. You are back in control of your own time.

This is unfortunately not an easy problem to solve since office space and remodeling aren't cheap. But here's the deal. If you run a company or plan to run one some day, look for office space with plenty of offices. Don't settle for anything less. And when you move in, give offices to anyone who wants one. If you run out of offices, have people double up. It's a lot easier for two people to figure out when to leave each other alone than for an entire office.

Doors should not be status symbols in an office, they should be used to make workers more productive. ALL workers.

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