Those of you who are long-time readers of this blog know I thinktransparency is a huge part of the big shifts organizations are experiencing in this decade. You also know that I argue for thoughtful design of organizations and work that weaves together technology tools, organizational practices, and people -- using what I call systems savvy. It's easy for these discussions to focus on the technology tools (e.g., to teleconference or not, using collaboration platforms to do joint editing) and the organizational practices (e.g., should we be a team or just a group of people who work together, team-based pay or individual). I often have to work to remember to consider the human dimension, and even when I do, it tends to focus on knowledge, skills, and abilities - not physiological elements like hearing. Not so for Patrick J. Skerrett, co-author of Eat, Drink, & Be Healthy. In his recent blog post, Noise at the Office: How to Cope, he says:

I work for a company with an open-door policy. Open doors send an excellent message about collaboration and transparency. But they are tough on the ears and concentration.

He also mentions that the work done to make office environments more green, can also make them more noisy. One example is that we have less white noise when we have more efficient heating and cooling. His suggestions: Office design that takes noise into consideration, white noise generators (I didn't know there were web apps!), and good office etiquette. Skerrett's post highlights the importance of considering human physical and cognitive capabilities as well as job-specific knowledge, skills, and abilities. We can seek out experts to help: The field of cognitive ergonomics focuses on issues like how our thinking is impacted by noise. Haworth's (the office furniture and workspace design and manufacturing firm) Ideation group is devoted to the topic. Jay Brand, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist in the Ideation group, says:

You can learn to ignore meaningless stimuli (such as background noise in a café), but you cannot ignore stimuli in the form of your native language. It is an automatic reaction and, by definition, distracting.

Dr. Brand describes the value of acoustic separation of individual and collaborative workspaces. From a systems savvy perspective, this is likely to use technology (different workspace materials and design) to respond to our our variety of organizational practices (individual vs. collaborative work), given human needs around noise. We can't overlook any dimension of the technology tools, organizational practices, and people that make up our work. I'm fortunate to be visiting with Brian Scott and some of Haworth's systems savvy staff next week. Thank you all in advance for what I know will be an interesting discussion.