Build the cubicles higher: colleagues slow you down
Seems reasonable, but on the flipside, I think just having other people around can also be motivation to work. There are certainly no distractions when home alone in pajamas, but there's also no reason to get dressed in the morning. The "gaze of the other" can be a useful taskmaster.
Calgary tech-support specialist Brian Michaluk worked for about a year in a large, nearly empty room where he'd often go all day without talking to anyone. Last summer, he moved into a busy office packed with pods of low-walled cubicles - or, as he calls it, "Dilbert Land."
The move livened up his work social life, but it's killing his productivity.
Recent brain research proves what many office workers have long suspected - your colleagues are slowing you down. A University of Calgary scientist has found that watching someone perform a different task slows our brains, impeding efficiency and possibly leading to more errors.
Such visual distractions delay our reaction time, he explains, because mirror neurons in our brains create a mental picture of what the other person is doing. This process competes with the neurons that are
creating a mental picture of what we are doing at the same moment.
"You can't ignore the benefits of people having a social environment," Dr. Welsh says. But he does think businesses should build their offices to minimize sightline distractions the same way they try to minimize noise distractions. That means paying attention to the height of cubicle walls, so you can easily communicate with co-workers but cannot see motions and gestures that might distract you.
Still, he doesn't want to turn his back on distractions completely. Mr. Perkins refers to the work of influential psychologist Abraham Maslow, who proposed a human "hierarchy of needs" that places socialization just after basic requirements such as oxygen, food and security. Machine-like concentration on the task at hand would make us better workers, but probably not very happy people.