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The Power of Personal Space

Oct 9, 2007
Have you ever thought about how powerful personal space is as a determinant of productivity?

Everybody works differently, and where possible good managers should take into account individual preferences and needs when allocating workspace.

One company I worked with spent a lot of time getting the personal workspace right for each person.

The team was organised into a "noisy quadrant" (their term) - a team of people who were all wonderfully extroverted thinkers. Their work-space was chaotic, noisy and full of colour, movement, toys, magazines and whiteboards to stimulate thinking and brainstorming. One half of the area had people who loved mess and piles of paper and the other had people who liked order and neatness.

Another team organised themselves into the "quiet quadrant". These people valued quiet space for reflection and thought. Their space had beautifully coloured art, brightly coloured lanterns and purple tablecloths on their lunch table where they could meet and mingle for tea breaks and lunch before returning to their quiet thinking space.

Managers and team leaders were slotted in around the teams depending on their personal preferences and team allocations.

New team members were shown the different teams and had team members describe what it was like working in that team area before the new member chose their seating position. Seating was selected based on personal working preference rather than projects.

It sounds silly, but something as simple as having someone constantly interrupt to talk through ideas can be enough to make a great staff member leave, if their preference is quiet.

Differences in working style can also cause conflict in a team - where one person needs mess to feel like they are making a difference and another person requires order and discipline to make sure everything is being attended to.

Distance between staff is another area of contention. People need space around them to function effectively. Everyone carries a personal bubble around them of personal space. If someone comes within that personal bubble then people start to feel uncomfortable (for a whole host of reasons).

Some bubbles are culturally sensitive - Australian personal space is much bigger than some bubbles from countries such as India. People from country backgrounds tend to need bigger space bubbles than people from inner city backgrounds.

If you cram employees too tightly together, or sit people near areas of high traffic so that their personal bubbles are constantly encroached, you can generally expect productivity to fall.

So, what sort of work space do you like to work in? What makes you personally most productive? Do you like to brainstorm and talk through ideas or do you need quiet to think? Do you need order or chaos to be happy?

What about your team? Are you asking them to adopt your way of working? Do they have enough room between them to cater for their personal bubbles? How happy are they?

The mark of a good leader is being able to adapt your personal style to get the best performance out of your team. What could you personally do to take into account the individual personal space preferences of your team members?

Personal space adaptations don't need to cost a lot to be effective - you just need to stop and find creative solutions to the challenges you have on hand. You will reap the rewards tenfold with happier staff and increased productivity.
About the Author
Ingrid Cliff is a Freelance Copywriter, Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small and Medium Businesses. Ingrid has just published Instant HR Policies and Procedures for Small and Medium Businesses www.heartharmony.com.au
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