I don’t often rant. Well truth be told, I do in private, but publicly, I generally hold my strongest opinions to myself. But today I’m breaking that personal rule.
I’ve spent the last three years and six months working in a modern concrete and glass open office space. From the moment we moved in, it felt depressive. The space was often noisy and visually distracting with people walking past my small cubicle. The lighting was poor, floors were hard, sound bounced off the concrete and glass, and I was often subjected to others’ random conversations.
For a writer trying to concentrate, it was miserable. Start a train of thought. Get knocked off the train. Struggle to get back on. It got old fast.
The idea of an open office with no walls or private offices, where the only sound barriers are earbuds or headphones is a place where collaboration ostensibly takes place by enabling some sort of magical creativity. As a concept, it sounds great and those who promote these spaces loves to extol its virtues.
These people usually have private offices.
In the corporate world, this concept is catching on. The bean counters love it. Floor space is expensive and the more people they can shove into fewer square feet, the happier they are. Chairs are cheaper than floors.
But there’s a down side — a huge down side — that these promoters are simply ignoring.
The open office is counterproductive.
For three years, I struggled to adapt. It was, I thought, my responsibility as an employee. I wanted to be a team player. I wanted to do a good job. All the while, though, I hated the space.
Gradually, my production diminished. Where I had once cranked out thousands of words a week as a writer, had many creative ideas for telling stories, and frequently followed leads to find stories that would illuminate readers, I began to get slow. It became increasingly difficult to put thoughts together. I began to lose motivation — something that in the realm of writing had never, ever been a problem for me.
I also began to think it was me. I was getting older. I wasn’t a 30-something anymore. Maybe I was the problem.
So I made the hard decision to leave my job. After all, my motivation was gone and I thought my talents were waning. I had to admit I’d lost my edge. I couldn’t in good conscience continue to take a paycheck when, after three years, my production had dwindled from a flood to a trickle.
So I left.
But then I got an enormous surprise. After a two-week vacation, I sat down at my computer at home. It was quiet, pleasant, comfortable. There were no distractions. No floating voices to derail my thinking.
And again the river ran. I had not lost my edge. I had not outgrown my talent. I had not lost any of my motivation. I was back. My writing was back. And I was excited.
In that moment, I had an epiphany. I realized that my old open office space had not only been depressing, it had been destructive. It had gradually torn me down to the point that writing had become a chore, that hauling myself every morning into that mouse-size cubicle, that enduring the constant barrage of noise had worn me down every bit as much as the Colorado River ground out the Grand Canyon.
I can’t function in those circumstances, but happily I won’t have to anymore. My new office — my home office — feels like a high mountain where no one (save the phone which I can turn off) can distract me.
It is simply glorious.