If this is what some offices are turning into, what’s the point of even coming into the office:
In today’s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the campus of a high-tech start-up, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. A senior partner at a Boston law firm describes a scene in his office. Young associates lay out their suite of technologies: laptops, iPods and multiple phones. And then they put their earphones on. “Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits.” With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken
I haven’t worked in an environment quite like this, but I do wear headphones a bit at work (usually just one so I can hear if someone is trying to talk to me). If people are going into the office to be alone, I think they’er missing the point of being in the office. Most offices are sterile places that do not inspire creativity. The whole purpose of showing up at a place with drab walls and corridors lit by subtly blinking, dingy flourscent lights is to be by coworkers and see what they are up.
Lord knows we don’t show up at most offices to be inspired to do great work. My home office is leagues better than my work cube. It’s a place that inspires me to push myself.
Perhaps these stories are really pointing to the fundamental illogic of coming into the office on a daily basis.
Some people really like being social at work. Others like to lose themselves in their work. Maybe it just has finally become socially acceptable to lose yourself in your work and try to seek solitude.
To me, this points to the need for employers to allow people to work remotely more often. Have employees come into the office for meetings and social events. Have those times where people are in the office be centered around social interaction.
For the other days, let people work at home or a coffee shop or a coworking space or even in the office. Our goal should be to make employees as happy as possible and get the best work out of them.
Some of this hang-wringing over people talking less while being hyperconnected is a bit of “The Kids These Days.” Technology changes. Times change.
People no longer go out and get drunk at lunch while at work. Social mores change. Work has largely become a place for work, and younger workers are spending less time socializing while at work.
That doesn’t mean what was before was right. It was just what was before.
We adapt, we change and we figure out new best practices. I have a feeling that are in the middle of a great work upheaval. People don’t know quite how to use a lot of these new technologies at work or at home. But we’ll figure it out.
The kids will be alright.