Re: Do Technical Writers Deserve Their Own Office?

Subject: Re: Do Technical Writers Deserve Their Own Office?
From: Barry Campbell <barry -at- WEBVERANDA -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998 12:44:41 -0400

At 07:44 AM 4/16/98 -0700, Debra Mazo wrote:

>Our Documentation Group is having a hard time justifying
>private offices for technical writers to Product Development.
>We need some strong reasons to justify that we are different
>than developers and work more productively in a quiet working
>space, especially when we performing editing duties.
>Thanks in advance if you share any of your ideas.


I think that one of the most important and useful provisions
*any* company can make for *any* valued knowledge workers
(programmers, writers, or any other professionals who exercise
the old grey matter for a living) is a quiet, private workspace.

I don't need physical proximity to developers in order to stay
in touch with them and find out what's going on, but maybe I've
just figured out how to use the phone, e-mail and meeting times
to maximum effect. :-)

However, you're fighting a losing battle here. I admire you for
tilting at windmills, but be careful not to spend all your
political capital on this, especially if you plan to stay with
this employer for a while.

My company recently relocated from a genteel old Art Deco building
to a newer glass-and-steel office tower. The vast majority of
employees (who typically shared tradtional offices prior to the
move) now sit at "workstations" (imagine an extremely small
cubicle without actual walls) with just a shade under 28 square
feet of space per person.

Aesthetically, the arrangement creates a very pleasing effect;
the entire office looks open and light and airy.

As a practical matter, when the workspace is populated with
actual workers trying to perform actual work, it is not unlike
working in a bus terminal. (I get through most days by creating
a personal "cone of silence" with a portable CD player and a
stack of discs containing mostly instrumental music, from Bach
to John Coltrane.)

The amount of personal space allocated to *all* employees has
been shrinking in the waning years of our century. A recent
article in the New York Times (Elaine Underwood, "Welcome To Your
Closet: Employers Cut Costs With Smaller Offices," New York Times,
22 March 1998) explains the trend at some length.

A few pithy excerpts:

>In the mid-1980s, a poll conducted by Michael Brill, a
>workplace researcher and architect, found that 65 percent of
>recently promoted workers wanted more office space as a
>reward for their labor.
>"They wouldn't have the guts to say that anymore," said
>Brill, president of the Buffalo Organization for Social and
>Technological Innovation, which designs new office
>environments for Xerox, Sun Microsystems, IBM and other
>blue-chip companies. "The world has changed drastically. You
>are not a team player if you ask for more space."

Barry Campbell | Senior Technical Writer
barry -at- webveranda -dot- com | Summit Systems, Inc.
(personal/list mail) | 22 Cortlandt Street
barry_campbell -at- summithq -dot- com | New York, NY 10007
(business e-mail) | 212.896.3463

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