Is Your Lab Open or Closed?
Business models tend to influence paradigms. Open office plans have been around since the 1950s and are in seventy percent of all businesses. The idea is simple: if workers can see each other and don’t have walls between them, creativity and productivity increase.
But as The New Yorker reports, “a growing body of evidence suggests that the open office undermines the very things that it was designed to achieve.” In one study assessing employee satisfaction at intervals after switching from a traditional to open setting, the new space was found to be disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome. Open offices reduce privacy and a sense of control, two elements linked to job performance. When workers can’t control their immediate surroundings -- lighting, noise, etc. -- performance suffers. Workers call in sick more often, too.
A laboratory isn’t an office setting, but the paradigm applies. Workstations are attached to or built around instruments, sequestered in separate rooms off a central hallway, in an open floor plan, or in some combination of the two. Generally, the more open the plan the noisier and more distracting the environment.
A few years ago we moved our chemistry workstation from one side of our small laboratory to the other side of a separating wall, knocking down other walls and creating an open plan consisting of a core work triangle between hematology, chemistry, and immunology that everyone felt would increase productivity. Techs had a clear view of the outpatient area and so could help the phlebotomists during patient backlogs.
This open environment increased the noise level and chaos. Refrigerators, centrifuges, instruments, telephones, conversation, and the radio all contribute to noise, a constant distraction. It’s not uncommon to see techs at each workstation on telephones struggling to be heard or transferring calls and shouting across the lab. I doubt it’s any more efficient.
We had a choice. We could have erected a few more barriers, closing out distraction and noise. (Some days, it’s all about the noise.) Would that have increased productivity? It’s something to think about. What about your lab? Is it open or closed?
NEXT: When the House Manager Calls