Some companies spend a great deal of time and money recruiting the best thinkers and then dump them in an office environment more suitable for assembly line staff, where talking is probably the only thing that keeps them from going insane.

I am someone that likes complete silence when I work; I admit I have been spoilt in as much that I have always had my office for the last twenty years or more, except for one assignment when working for a mobile phone operating company. The first day working there I thought I would go completely insane before the week was out, how can anyone work like this, I thought? But funnily enough I did kind of get used to it. My trick was that I found a quiet place where I could go for a few hours a day, and when I was not there, I was often in meetings.

Having started my first business at the age of 21, I quickly learnt the importance of making the most of every working hour. Every minute wasted was a minute impossible to regain. Later on, when I took on my first employees I was always conscious of their cost per hour too. (And that’s never gone away).

As an independent contractor, if I choose to have a social chat with someone in my client’s office for even five minutes, I am consciously aware that I must work at least five minutes more to make up for it at the end of the day. Anything else would be theft because nowhere in my contract does it say that I am entitled to invoice for social conversation.

I find that there are two kinds of talking in the work place. The first; which is 100% related to productive working, and the second; talking purely for the fun of being in the company of others. I know it is normal to have social communication between two consenting adults but there does become a problem when there are non consenters in the vicinity.

I think the open office rule should be this. If there are more than two people in any one office, talking should always be restricted to business except for the first sixty seconds of the day when a colleague enters the room and possibly again in the evening when they leave. Apart from that all social conversation should be restricted to a designated coffee area.

However, I realize that my rule is rather simplistic and is probably not always ideal or enforceable, especially in larger offices.

Fay, one of my PMI Master Class students, told me about noise cancelling headphones, apparently they work really well. I just wonder how they work socially? I mean if someone is driving you nuts in the office by talking all the time, do you simply say “yes very interesting” and then put your headphones on? I mean how does it work in practice? I also wonder if they could ever have some kind of long term negative effect on one’s health? I was thinking about repetitive white noise syndrome, for example? I haven’t ordered a pair yet but they could become useful if I get fed up with the sound of my own voice telling me to stay focused and concentrate more!

Have a good week,

PS here’s my conclusion on last week’s blog: Company Politics

Perhaps it will not rain, and even if it does rain, perhaps the Englishman’s boss and colleague will look at his umbrella and decide that it is not going to be that effective and run for cover instead!

The moral of the story is: There is no point in planning everything to the nth. degree, especially if you only look at it from your own view point. Risk planning is about judging when you need it and then when you decide you do, to always get a 360 degree view of the situation, which more often than not involves bringing in other objective view points.

It is highly unlikely that anyone will fight over an umbrella because getting wet is not such a big deal and the tool on offer to prevent was not the right one anyway! A pragmatic approach to both politics and risk management is always best.

As one of my commenter’s suggested, just raising the topic may have cleared the problem, but then again perhaps half an hour would have been wasted discussing over the likelihood of rain and its eventual consequences, rather than solving an important and engrossing business problem!