If you ended up here lured by the topic for this blog entry I hope you come away a bit more aware about yourself, your work environment and possibly one or more of your colleagues.

Let me explain how I came upon this topic. First, as part of our Lean efforts, we are examining the possibility of doing “something” with our cube farm. From a Lean perspective, the goal would be to eliminate the waste of motion and to increase communication, collaboration, creativity and job satisfaction (respect for the worker.) The discussion led to things like “open space” offices or offices for all or just a rearranging of the existing floor plan. What was interesting during that discussion was the variety of preferences expressed by the individuals participating in the conversation. They can be categorized into 1) open space with places for privacy, 2) privacy with open places and 3) strict privacy.

I discovered conflicting research and anecdotal testimony when I googled the topic of office layouts, much of it was consistent with the three categories expressed in our discussions. The whole thing got me to thinking as to what determines one’s preference for different office environments. Based on the results of my web search, it became evident on the surface that the type of work, an individual’s personality, and the company culture all have an influence. So, where does sensory integration fit in?

Briefly, Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) “is a neurological disorder causing difficulties with processing information from the five classic senses (vision, auditory, touch, olfaction, and taste), the sense of movement (vestibular system), and/or the positional sense (proprioception).” [Wikipedia definition] More succinctly, it is when an individual processes the input from one or more of his senses abnormally. I became aware of SID when my 4 year old was recently diagnosed with this dysfunction.

How, you may ask, are these two topics related? Well, it became evident that children with SID grow up to be adults with SID. Based on some research, adults (and children) may be diagnosed with related disorders such as ADD\ADHD or a form of autism or not diagnosed at all. SID impacts these individuals in various ways. Things like fluorescent lights, sounds shoes on a carpet, the fabric of a chair, loud bangs or other noise can all cause reactions ranging from social withdraw to hyperactivity. As an adult without SID, you might react to a loud noise with a jolt, but then your body and mind settle down. An adult with SID may react with anger and lash out at a colleague. The adult with SID processed the noise differently and his reaction was involuntary. You might be on the receiving end of this reaction and have no explanation for why your work mate is treating you this way. It is also possible that a person with SID is sensory seeking. A sensory seeker needs additional stimulus to function normally, This may included heavy clothing, loud music, deep muscle stimulation, etc. At work, this person may listen to loud music with headphones, seek physical contact with arm and shoulder touches, enjoy larger groups with multiple conversations, etc.

So, to tie things together the two topics got me to thinking that when we redesign our office space here at ABC Corp., we need to factor in a wide-variety of work types, behaviour, personality, dysfunction and culture. I think that the result will be a selection of different work spaces for individuals. These should include 1) open spaces for collaboration or individuals who are sensory seekers; 2) private, quite areas for workers needing constant focus or people who are easily sensory overloaded; and 3) combination areas that allow for a balance between privacy and public access. The office space should allow for dedicated work areas so that individuals have a sense of space and stability, but give an opportunity for mobility so that a more appropriate work area can be secured when needed. This would mean using wireless technology, notebook computers, kiosks, telephony with mobility (your phone extension follows you), electronic and physical collaboration tools such as Sharepoint, mobile electronic whiteboards, presence technology so that your colleagues know where you are and whether you are available or not.

This is not the Office of the Future. This is the Office of the Present. Companies should be honest with themselves and recognize that this is not that hard (or expensive) to accomplish and is most likely necessary for increasing productivity, efficiency, collaboration, creativeness and overall employee job satisfaction.