As a former programmer in the automotive industry, I was shocked to read the article in The University Record that advocated people working in close quarters instead of having privacy.
Based on my experience, working under these conditions makes concentration difficult. Actually, difficult is not a strong enough word. Concentration is frequently impossible. When I worked under those conditions, I usually came to work very early to have the necessary quiet to focus on complex programming and analysis tasks. Based on my experience, there were usually many non-work-related, distracting conversations going on while I was trying to do my job. In a private office, a person can easily insulate her/himself from these distracting conversations by quietly closing the door. In a bullpen, there is no escape.
Having a private office is a blessing. If I or other co-workers need help with a project, all we have to do is call or e-mail a co-worker. The private office or cubicle gives us a space for concentration, which is necessary to solve complex technical problems. Teamwork and the willingness to help others are very important. I think the best work atmosphere to encourage this is either private cubicles or offices, with co-workers and cubicles located near each other.
Even here at the U-M, many of the conversations that I have observed in shared offices are not work-related. I feel very strongly that the bullpen or war room would be a terrible work environment. In addition to the frequent distraction of non-work-related conversations, many people feel the need to play radios during business hours. Often, head phones are not adequate to insulate people who want to work in a quiet atmosphere.
On a humanitarian basis, I urge these researchers to reconsider what they are advocating. Their next step should be to interview people who have worked in both war rooms and private offices or cubicles. I will be very surprised if they dont find a strong worker preference for a private and quiet work space.
Brandy R. Sinco, research associate, School of Public Health