Saturday, May 19, 2018

[Daily] Thinking Spaces - Saturday 2018.05.19

I wonder if loud environments are particularly distracting to people who are wired to think a certain way. In college I talked to two friends who said they don't think in words; they think visually and in symbols. About two years ago I remember Blake Ross wrote a note on Facebook about the opposite: he can't visualize anything in his head (known as aphantasia). I primarily think in words and sentences, not pictures—I can visualize things, but in general it's not natural, and I find spatial thinking tough.

This morning, I got a coffee and quickly left Sightglass on Divisidero, where they were playing rock music at volume 10 in their airy space that enhances the sound of chatter and coffee grinding. I had pulled out my computer to write, put in earplugs (an underrated city essential), and still had trouble focusing, so I moved down the street to Vinyl. I remember reading in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains that Dr. Paul Farmer used to study in the same room as someone (a sibling?) practicing drums, and I find that dumbfounding and superhuman.

Incidentally, an article about how open offices are bad for women came out recently. Besides one internship where I worked in a cubicle, I've never known anything different, and in general I prefer open offices. I have fortunately not encountered—or not noticed—any comments from people around me about me as I've worked. If anything, discomfort I've felt sitting close to others has been in my own head due to self-consciousness, especially early on in my career: am I working too slow? Can people see me struggling? I remember feeling this doubt strongly almost everywhere I worked at Facebook, especially when I was seated right next to tech leads who are today my north stars. On the other hand, sitting next to these people allowed me to see up close what they did on a daily basis, and have frequent conversations with them. Ultimately I think this environment pushed me to and helped me become better, faster.

The one aspect of open offices I continue to dislike is the lack of sound barriers, which makes deep thinking hard for me—perhaps due to the verbal-ness of my thinking, or due to a musical instinct to pick apart ambient sound. At Pinterest, I first encountered and took a big liking to these chairs with walls, which do a surprisingly good job of blocking out the world. I would choose to have one of these at my desk over an office chair.

the Pod PET Felt Privacy Chair by Benjamin Hubert

One thing I look forward to spending more time shaping, as our small startup grows and claws its way to more stability, is the kind of spaces we work in. I think there are non-ideal parts of open offices as they are typically designed, but instead of dismissing them as being bad for a whole swath of the population, we should talk about the specific features we want to enhance or mitigate. I wonder if small tweaks, like allowing people to choose the type of chair they sit in, would help some of these larger problems. The funny thing is that I have never encountered at any company big or small a conversation about how each person tends to think, what they find distracting, and what spaces they seek out, although this seems a substantial lever for productivity.

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