The Surprising Secret of Team Productivity: Cubicles

In Collision detection Clive Thompson comments on a new study published in The Journal of Human Movement Science (Dec 2007), which suggests that when you can see other workers performing different tasks out the corner of your eye, it slows you down.

Dilbert's cubicle

The study suggests:

"In a situation where speed and accuracy in performing a certain task are important, I think an argument could be made for a work setting in which people work in isolation -- or at least with people who are doing very similar tasks. That will remove the involuntary modeling of another's behaviour, potentially improving speed and likely accuracy."

For more on the advantages of solitary work see Can a team have just one member where I suggest that collaboration is best for tasks which cannot be fully achieved by a single person – if a job can be completed best by one person then to collaborate to do it will only produce an inferior result.

Thanks to Doug Philips aka teamite#222* for spotting Clive's post

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I certainly don't understand the logic of cramming people into a small space unless the task requires it or the business is broke and has no space, etc.

We expect people to work in closer proximity than they if they were married and we wonder why they are bad tempered!

A few days ago, I found a good distinction about fours spaces: public, social, personal, intimate. A good community keeps these spaces in harmony. We need spaces where we move around each other - the kitchen, the water cooler, the lounge. We need spaces where we test out whether the relationship could or should be deeper - places we can test out co-activity and move away to the right place as need arises. We need spaces where we ask for favors or discuss difficult things - confidential, discrete, safe spaces. And we need private spaces where we are secure that our business is not being broadcast to the world - trusted places. The article began with a story about pushy salespeople in a pharmacy - which deals essentially with intimate items - hence space and corresponding behavior needs to follow expectations of intimate matters. etc etc. Hope you are well.

Thanks Jo

Like your distinction on the four spaces. It reminds me of "Peopleware" by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister ( which one reviewer sums up in one sentence by saying:

"Peopleware says this: give smart people physical space, intellectual responsibility and strategic direction. DeMarco and Lister advocate private offices and windows. They advocate creating teams with aligned goals and limited non-team work. They advocate managers finding good staff and putting their fate in the hands of those staff. The manager's function, they write, is not to make people work but to make it possible for people to work".


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