Opinion: The gentle art of the open-plan power nap

Peter Cardy

Ever since I learned relaxation at the Lynda Jackson Macmillan Centre for cancer support, the best place to catch me napping is in the office.

A ten-minute power nap gets me through the most gruelling days. It also amuses my colleagues because I work in the same space as 80 of them - there's no hiding place.

The first time I inhabited an open-plan office, in Aberdeen in the 1970s, it was out of sheer necessity. All the Workers' Educational Association could afford was a partly finished shop unit with a concrete roof, three walls and two vandalised toilets. We completed it ourselves - floor, plate-glass windows, ceilings, heating, carpets, wallpaper and paint. I built the kitchen and did the plumbing. It was one large space - there wasn't enough room to partition it.

I've worked mostly in open-plan environments ever since. My predecessor at Macmillan had a great glass office over the Thames, from which he could keep a watchful eye on Whitehall and Westminster - but it was at the end of the building, and hardly anyone came to visit. At the first opportunity, I moved next to reception with the team of gregarious people who run our offices. The echo rivalled that of the Whispering Gallery.

Last year, we took the opportunity of expanding to improve all our floors in the tower block. One aim was to get each team together - the most insecure group felt demoted by moving down four floors. My little team offered to move with them, gambling that they'd prefer the extra space and turn down the offer. We were wrong - I've exchanged my view of the Thames for a view of the unlovely Vauxhall station, but it feels good.

People who've been used to working in their own offices take about six weeks to adapt and blank out unwanted sounds. After many years, I can write and read complex material without needing sanctuary elsewhere. Although my door is always open, passers-by are very courteous. I have a desk lamp with a red bulb that signals my door is closed, but I've only used it four times in as many years.

What about confidentiality? I try to manage without it. Hardly any of my work has to be secret, but I trust my colleagues and they reciprocate.

As an untidy worker, I don't feel I have to put all my papers away. And disciplinary meetings? We have interview rooms - but if it gets to that stage, the battle is already half lost.

- Peter Cardy is chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support.

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