Peace and Quiet

Last week we put up an article on the benefits of collaboration. Collaboration is one of the great advantages of working with other people. However, too much collaboration and not enough time for quiet reflection can also create its own problems.

In the 90s and early 00s there was a great push toward open concept office places where everybody could communicate constantly. Walls were torn down and separate offices gave way to large rooms with tables and laptops. For some organizations this model continues to work well but for others there has been an effort to restore some of the walls that had previously existed.

A lot of the reason for this return to a more traditional office structure is that for many people collaboration has its limits. It is extremely valuable to talk through a new idea with a co-worker or have a friend read through your presentation to make sure you have thought about all possible angles. However, after these conversations many people benefit from having time and space to reflect on their own.

Personally, while I love company for the idea generating stage of a project, I need to go into my office and close the door to hammer out a first draft. A large part of this preference is simply the risk of distraction.

I have talked to many people who are advanced in their professions who say that the only time they can truly get stuff done is very early in the morning before their employees or families wake up. While it is great to collaborate with other people in the office and be consistently available for employees, it is hard to, for example, write a proposal, when somebody is asking a question every five minutes.

It can sometimes be hard to send the message that you value collaboration and want to engage with your co-workers while still maintaining the time and space you need to perform certain tasks. It may seem as if you are being uncooperative or that you are not a team player. The key is to make sure that you are genuinely available MOST of the time. That way, when you need to take some time to work alone, you have already garnered a reputation as an accessible co-worker.

Some offices attempt to balance these competing interests by having a general open door policy among employees and supervisors where doors are open most of the time and questions and feedback are invited as long as the door is open. That way, when somebody needs some quiet time to work, they can simply close their door and signal to the rest of the office that they are not to be disturbed. It allows for a more resilient workgroup.

How do you balance these competing interests in your office? Do you need time to lock yourself away and do work or are you able to thrive in a more open environment?

Leave a Reply