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How to be happy at work

I am pretty well inured to noise. When I sat my exams at university there was a demonstration taking place in the hall in the first year that we were just expected to ignore. Another year (not sure if it was finals or not), we had the windows open and a brass band festival outside.

When I first trained as a journalist we had manual typewriters. Our proficiency test was in a room with 20 or so clattering away. Noise, what noise?

But there is a depressing familiarity about a recent report about workers in a new building finding it too noisy. In this case, the ‘culprit’ is the Francis Crick research building in London’s King’s Cross, as reported in yesterday’s Guardian. Some workers have said that they cannot concentrate in the open-plan space, with too many people going past. This may be a real story or it may not – there are always some who dislike new buildings and change. If this is really a problem for a lot of people and not just the disgruntled few, then there are usually readily available solutions in terms of baffles etc.

What I find more interesting in a rather disjointed article is the work cited at the end by the dean of the Bartlett, Prof Alan Penn. He talks about buildings that work in terms of social interaction (he thinks Francis Crick is pretty good) and those that don’t. And at the end, he lists the criteria for good office design.

The whole piece is worth reading – it even has diagrams, which I always love. But in case you are feeling idle, here is his prescription:

Do take account of different types of staff in your organisation; some jobs need territory, some are nomadic.

Do have “contemplative” areas for your staff to think, read or write.

Do create space for creative interaction where staff can randomly bump into each other and chat, and organise the circulation so that different groups or divisions are brought together.

Don’t go too far in reducing the number of desks in pursuit of agile working, eg below the average number of staff in the office.

Don’t assume that only the boss needs to have an office when the office junior might need top concentration to do their work.

Don’t install cubicles in the hope of reducing interruptions, they stop you from recruiting passers-by into conversation, and are not effective in reducing noise.

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