Monday, March 19, 2012

The risk of office burnout

Though some of us can work from remote locations, the greater majority of the workforce still goes to the office -- and that's the audience I was writing for in the Advice From A Risk Detective.  Risk presents itself in several forms in the office  -- from fellow employees, to the environment and external events.

I was bemused yesterday to read a set of business section stories, including this New York Times article, which look at the effect of environment on productivity and creativity.  The idea is that you can wander into lovely light-filled spaces from your work area for inspiration and to increase productivity.  Such spaces are the exception to the rule, at least from what I've seen in my consulting work.  Most workers labor away in cubicles or in jammed up spaces like the trading floor at Russell Investments pictured above.

Workers' commonest complaints in such areas is centered on the lack of privacy and the inability to concentrate with all the chatter around you.  So what can be done to lower the risk of burnout and enhance your work experience if you're in an open workspace?

Wear a headset.  I saw a study last week that indicated those who listen to music while working get more done.  If you've got cubicle walls, consider also adding a plant or two and pictures to personalize the space.  You work best where you are comfortable.

Schedule your work.  Sometimes the best time to get a project finished is when your colleagues are away from their desks at a meeting.  You can look for other occasions as well.

Group agreements.  I've seen situations where everyone in a group knows that the time from 8-10am is for quiet work only, like study hall.  Or where everyone takes a break at staggered times so that the rhythms of the space change perceptibly.

Look for new spaces.  Whether or not your workspace has "open concept" areas built in like the Gates Foundation or Russell Investments, look for those areas you might spend an hour or two in that change out the pace for you.

Take a walk.  You can get a big jolt of energy from simply leaving your workspace and walking around the building.  It's like resetting a switch.  I find that mid-morning and mid-afternoon short walks even out the amount of focus and energy I bring to my work.  Give it a try.

I have a very comfortable office, but like to change things out -- my favorite walkable alternate work space is Ravenna Third Place Books, where I get both a pot of Darjeeling tea and Internet access.  I even schedule some of my meetings there to mix things up even more. 

The risk of burnout never goes away, so do what you can on a regular basis.

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