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When the office walls come down: Can you handle lack of privacy?

Open workspace


One day, I was typing away on my keyboard when I got the call that makes a working mother cringe. My kids were having a fight and one of them wanted me to referee -- from my office cubicle. An open newsroom isn't the most private place to do that and everyone could hear exactly how I was handling the situation.

"You let your brother use your computer for the next half hour," I screamed at my daughter. I remember a single reporter sitting nearby who gave me that I'm-never-having-kids look. I hated the lack of privacy.

Yet, I enjoyed the upside of the office layout. It benefitted me when a co-worker overheard my efforts to find a source for a story I had been working on, and chimed in with the perfect person.

Now the open workspace concept is spreading beyond newsrooms making the semi-privacy of the office cubical a nostalgic dream. Companies like Burger King and U.S. Foods are tearing down the walls in favor of communal workspace. About 70 percent of workers now work in open-plan offices and more companies are considering it, according to a recent news article.

The goal is to increase collaboration among workers and managers. 

Last week Jill Granat, general counsel of Burger King, said when new owners took over her company, one of the first changes was to knock down the walls. "At first your workers will hate it. Then they'll love it," Granat said. She said the arrangement has made her much more productive. She holds fewer meetings, sends fewer emails and can make quicker decision. If you want to ask someone a question, you can tell right away if they're at their desk and just ask them, she said. 

But Granat also admitted her privacy is gone. That can be huge for working parents.

When the walls are low  and the team clustered together, everyone can see what you eat for lunch, when you get up to go to the restroom. They can hear what you say to your spouse and what tone you use. It can seriously affect your work life balance if you feel uncomfortable speaking to your child care provider with your boss overhearing your conversation.

Is workplace privacy a thing of the past? We already have seen our employers monitoring our emails and use of social media. Now, with this trend, should we just get used to having less privacy at work? We we resort to stealth measures...I bet there are a lot of workers sneaking outside to make personal phone calls. Doesn't that cause lost productivity?

Readers, what do you think about the walls coming down? Does this type of workspace make you more productive? Does it weed out the slackers, especially those who cause you to work later? Is the trade off, lack of privacy, worth the benefits?

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