The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Working thoughts

I was reading this article about headphone use in "open space" workplaces and was drawn back to my days at that Humongous Telecommunications Company. Specifically back to a time when the Large Brains who thought they ran the company had instituted a a program called Quality of Work Life (QWL, for short).

QWL's purpose, we were told, was to give the employee's some sense of "ownership" and "control" of the workplace. Our input was valued, they said, and we were encouraged to become involved. I quickly dubbed it "Quiet the Worker's Laments" because that seemed to be the real purpose behind it.

The reason I was brought back to those heady days was the "open space office" concept. For years, the company had established offices within offices; high padded wall cubicles were installed, giving non-management personnel the illusion of having a private (though doorless) office.  Like all ideas imposed from the top, it worked and didn't work. A sense of autonomy pervaded and the "grunts" (as I affectionately called the average non-management worker) quickly adapted a feeling of importance. They could sit at their desks and know the boss had to actually come to their cubicle to see if they were doing actual work. The lazy ones could laze, the energetic ones could work, and they were mostly happy.

But something else happened, the bosses would look out and see only cubicles. They could not see the workers... unless the workers were outside their cubicles and going somewhere. But they could see, at times, some clustering. People gathering around and in a cubicle; laughing, talking, being (I am sure was thought) unproductive. And so a boss would have to get up, walk among the peons, and scatter the herd back (presumably) to their respective cubicles.

Hence, the Open Space concept came into being. Actually, it returned. It was not a new concept. Just think back to those movies which showed an office environment with rows and rows of desks, all aligned and facing away from the boss' office; an office with windows that looked out upon the sea of workers under his command.

Nothing is really new in the workplace, old practices just get re-cycled, called something new, and reinstated.

Where I worked at the time of QWL was in a switching office; a #4ESS computerized, digital, switching system. I was part of a group of 12 who maintained and repaired the system hardware. I worked out of a large room called the MOC (Maintenance Operations Center). I spent a large portion of my non-break time in that room; reading printouts, determining strategies for problem clearing, and generally goofing off. We worked in shifts (6 on Days, 3 on Evenings, 3 on Nights)

There was another group, more than 12 in size, who worked in the TOC (Trunking Operations Center), a much larger room. The plan was to replace the full wall and door between the two rooms with a short wall. To create an open space where all were one big happy family of "worker-bees". It would give us a sense of "working together", they said, of being "part of a team", and increasing communications between the groups. None of the people wanted it except management... who would each, under the plan, be given a private office and no longer merely have a desk in one of the old large rooms, sitting amidst the rabble, accessible to all.

It failed to come about because there was a general uprising against it. It also brought the end to QWL in our workplace after it was learned that our only "valued" input was to determine the color scheme for the office.

Maybe if we had earbuds, iPods, and noise canceling headphones, things would have turned out differently.

No comments: