I thought “the boss” always had an office but In spite of the impressive sounding title of Executive Director, I don’t have any private space.
Everyone works out of a 15” X 15” foot office with three desks. (Luckily our part time people work on a staggered schedule.)
The open office situation presents me with several challenges, both as a leader and as an introvert.
The practical considerations include the fact that I can’t have a private phone call. If I need to talk to a board member about our financials, or negotiate a contract with an agent, I have to walk into the theater with my cell phone, which means I don’t have my computer in front of me.
It’s not that I’m trying to keep information from the staff, there are just things they don’t need to know. Or might misinterpret.
Over the years, there have been staff members who have been very good at pretending that they aren’t eavesdropping. They pay attention to their own work and keep their ears on their own phone calls.
But there have been other people who ask after I hung up, “who was that?” or “what was that all about?”
It’s awkward to respond, “Mind your own business” even if there was a polite way to say it.
It has forced many conversations about respecting each person’s space, both physical and auditory, and trusting that I will share any necessary information with them.
Another problem is that I am completely accessible to not only staff, but to the general public.
I’ve posted before about my bus stop boyfriends, the ragtag group of drunks and oddballs who stop in on their way to the restroom to ask me out or try to flirt with me.
I have no door to close and no place to hide from them.
I also can’t avoid salesmen or employment seekers. Although they do encounter the box office person first, s/he can’t exactly say I’m not available when the person can see me sitting right there.
I might be in the middle of writing a grant, reading a contract or some other project that requires my concentration when someone stops by, but because I’m visible, I’m expected to drop everything and talk to them.
The constant starting and stopping of a project so I can chat affects my productivity and the quality of my work.
On top of the lack of privacy and over accessibility, the office is loud. Phones are ringing, people are talking, printers are printing. One person smacks her gum, another talks to himself.
Some days I can barely think, must less accomplish anything of significance.
I’m an introvert. I need my quiet time.
Of course, it could be worse. A few weeks ago I listened to an episode of On Point with Tom Ashbrook on Vermont Public Radio about the latest trend in workspaces: free range offices.
The concept is that no one is assigned a work space. You might have a locker where you can store your personal belongings, but then you have to find an empty desk to work for the day. And the next day you find a different space.
This takes all sorts of forms depending on the office. Some places have “desk reservation systems,” where you can reserve a space for the next day.
Some companies have sections by department, so Human Resources sit in that area, Sales are in this area, but specific desks are all up for grabs.
Sometimes there are rooms that people can use for confidential conversations, sometimes not.
The idea of this type of workspace terrifies me.
Whenever my mother and I go to a restaurant where you order at a counter and then sit down to wait for your food, I always make her find the table.
I don’t mind waiting in line, ordering or even paying for the whole meal, as long as I don’t have to search for a table in a busy restaurant. It stresses me out.
But Mom wouldn’t be there to get a desk for me every day.
I know that if I worked in a free range office space, I would start arriving at work earlier and earlier to ensure that I got the space I wanted, probably the same space every day. Before long, I’d be living there 24/7 just to make sure that desk was mine.
This idea is also very impersonal. Workers should be able to organize their spaces so they work best for them, and they can’t do that if they’re at a different desk every day.
I’d probably spend hours each morning rearranging the desk so the stapler was in the top right hand drawer where I like it.
Over the years I have found little ways of dealing with the lack of private office space, tricks that make it easier to bear.
I’ve learned that ear buds are my friend.
At first I felt uncomfortable putting in my ear buds in order to tune out the office around me. It seemed rude and it could prevent someone from asking an important question.
Come to find out, they have no such qualms. They ask anyway
And it doesn’t stop the people from wandering in to shoot the breeze, either. But it does allow me to ignore some of the extra noise, the telephones and printers, and concentrate.
I usually listen to podcasts, or Pablo Casals’s Bach Cello Suites, because they are like white noise. Music with lyrics tends to distract me more than the office hub bub does.
I’ve also created a “happy corner,” a small display that I can see over the top of my laptop screen.
I haven’t gotten carried away with the clutter, there are just a few mementos from trips or friends that make me smile when I’m ready to scream at everyone to leave me alone.
Of course, the thing that would make me happiest is a door. But I don’t think there’s the space for that.