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What's your hammock?

What's your hammock?
Published: October 5, 2017
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Mark Quest, Impact UK Consultant, reflects back to a hot sunny day when his ability to work in the office was challenged and his response was to take to his hammock!

It’s the middle of summer. My office is 25c. We are a modern, innovative company, an incubator for the free flow of ideas. So, of course, our office is open plan. It makes sense. The ability to quickly bounce thoughts off colleagues, to pick up new ideas, it’s got to be a good thing, right?  Well, maybe not always. A recent article quoted on suggests that personal space in the office is more important than contemporary wisdom has suggested.

In a study of more than 40,000 workers in 300 U.S. office buildings - by far the most comprehensive research on this issue - the results reached an interesting conclusion.

"Enclosed private offices clearly outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality), particularly in acoustics, privacy and the proxemics issues. Benefits of enhanced 'ease of interaction' were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration."

Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices - Jungsoo Kim, Richard de Dear

And this makes sense. But I love our office and find being able to instantly turn to any of my colleagues and get their opinion brilliant and much more efficient than email. And yet, when I need to focus, to finesse the fine detail in a document, that same open, busy space doesn’t work anymore. What is going on with that? And is this the same for everyone?

Interestingly, the answer is probably different for all of us.

We all have our own preferences, some conscious, some not. They influence what we buy, who we talk to, how we work, everything. Some of these, it’s argued, are built in, hardwired, unknown even. They empower us to take certain actions, draw us towards certain solutions but don’t always fit with what’s around us and what we’re doing.

I am brilliant at big picture thinking, at coming up with new ideas, developing solutions and innovating possibilities. Especially when it involves other people. I have always been drawn to this kind of work and it’s absolutely a preference for me. And this side of me flourishes in our open-plan, communal workspace. What I struggle with is concentrated, detail focused, data crunching. This takes huge amounts of focus and energy from me and as it isn’t something I prefer, is easily derailed.

Stephen Covey, in his international best selling book ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’, talks about how we always have a choice, an obvious statement. But as with all obvious statements, they can be a catalyst to turn a concept into a reality.

So there I am sat in our wonderful, if hot, office. Trying to focus on logical, methodical, data…and failing. I find myself constantly distracted, hearing snippets of exciting ideas, challenges that people are facing; and all the time fighting to keep my focus. And then it occurs to me, ‘why am I still sat here struggling? Why not change something? I have a choice.’

And for me that choice is to take the hammock that is permanently in the car, walk off into the woods and carry on working on my laptop. The Internet comes via a hotspot on my phone and I’m instantly transported from an environment of distraction to one of peace, comfort and productivity. I still have to hold back the desire to put up hammocks for all my colleagues and run into the office waxing lyrical about my latest idea! But it’s easier and the work and focus come and flow out of me.

For you it could conversely be leaving your solo office and being in with the team, or sitting in whatever green space you have, or busy urban space; whatever you need. Whatever your hammock is...

  • Notice that you need something
  • Decide what it is and it might not necessarily be what you want (I craved company, I needed space)
  • Have the courage to take the Action needed

Noticing how your environment, and choosing your ‘hammock’, may be supporting your productivity or getting in the way of it is key to offering an act of micro leadership for yourself.  After all, if we can’t offer leadership to ourselves, how can we offer it to others?

What’s your ‘hammock’?

Here are some questions to help you reflect on whether where you’re working is enabling you or getting in your way:

  • Is being around people enabling you to get more work done or  would having more space be better?
  • Is where you want to be or where you are, where you need to be?
  • Where is your attention being drawn for the majority of your  time? (task, conversations, email, phone, social media?)
  • Where could you work and where do you feel you’re allowed to work?

What is your hammock? Share with us in the comment box below.