By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Dilbert turned office cubicles into a hapless joke, but now those endless, grey cube farms filled with Dilbert and his colleagues are gone, replaced by the latest office design trend: “open-landscape offices.” No walls! Look at the wide open spaces flooded with daylight and fresh air. They’re like wheat fields in Kansas, but with free wi-fi, flextime, and snack bars.

But wait a minute, what about the noise? The distractions? The complete absence of privacy and personal space? Are you supposed to be able to think in here? How can you get anything done?

If this is your workplace dilemma take heart because you’re not alone.

And yes, you can fix it and stop the noise.

Twelve years ago, I was part of a group that began working with the largest provider of workplaces for office workers in America, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). The GSA houses over 1,000,000 federal office workers in 2,200 communities across the nation, and they survey those office workers regularly about their working conditions. Consequently, if office workers are miserable and distracted, GSA knows about it. Based on over 20,000 survey responses, they learned that noise and lack of privacy were office workers’ biggest complaints. In response, they commissioned “Sound Matters,” a guide that helps to address the “open landscape dilemma.”

Get a copy and hand it your boss, send a PDF to your co-workers, and then use it to fix your own situation.

Another thing: Just recently, a research group at Harvard’s School of Public Health became interested in the problems of office workers, so they launched a research program called “Buildingomics” to understand the impact of “Indoor Environmental Quality” on office workers’ health and performance. Their goal is to provide “a new approach that examines the aggregate effects of various factors in the built environment that influence human health, well-being and productivity.” This group’s research can also help you put your complaints into words that will catalyze action.

Good luck.

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