Following the theme of efficient work spaces I began two issues ago, where do you do your best work? Is there anything you can change if your current space doesn't always serve you? And, what is the optimum environment for each type of task you do?

Small space for small ideas: big space for big ideas

My oldest son Chris is now a colonel in the NZ Army. A few years ago he was based at Defence HQ in Wellington, working on a major project. One day we were talking about open plan office environments and working in small spaces.

"I can do my day-to-day work at my little cubicle in our mostly open plan environment. But when I'm doing strategic big picture work I have to get out of the office. I head out to Trentham, grab an empty classroom and, using a whiteboard or flip chart paper to sketch out my ideas can then think more strategically. Small space for small ideas: big space for big ideas."


Different locations for some jobs

A Canadian financial planner was interviewing me. He's a very organised guy but struggled to keep up with his professional reading.

"Doren, where do you do your reading - when you can get to it?" I asked.

"At my desk. I've tried scheduling time for it but it still doesn't seem to happen."

"Have you thought about choosing a different chair or a different location, either in your office or even in your home?'"

Doren went quiet for a moment - trying the idea for size. "That would work," he finally replied with enthusiasm. "When I'm at my desk, computer in front of me, I'm in work mode. It doesn't seem right to be reading there.

"I've got a nice chair by the window I sit in when I want to take a break. It's got a light behind and it's comfortable. I'll just put my magazines on the table beside it, ready for my scheduled reading time."

Varied office layout - one size doesn't fit all


In one newly designed workplace whiteboards were requested by the workers. (I like whiteboards - many of us can process information faster and keep focused better when we can see projects written up.)

The whiteboards started going up in locations to suit the individual users. And then an Office Nazi showed up (and no, it was not the Army!)

"These whiteboards are not in line. Everyone's boards have to be in the exact same position."

Uniformity was her theme tune. No matter that in some cases the location of the board was inaccessible, due to the shape of that particular space and where the desk had to be positioned, let alone the preference of the user.

What are appropriate sound levels? We're not all the same

On a slightly different angle, here's a really useful contribution from my friend Judith who'd just discovered my Herald articles.

"One of your articles reminded me of a fabulous book I have recently read called: "Quiet: the power of the introverts in the world" by Susan Cain. It has a great section on office space, open plan and how introverts (such as myself) struggle to be effective in this environment. We like our quiet space... Highly recommended.

"'Another thing with open plan is that it's very difficult for those with hearing impediments - folks like me with hearing aids - to hold a good phone conversation. I sometimes want to scream at people in the hallway who are talking and laughing loudly. I have to stand up and say, 'excuse me but I can't hear the person on the line. Can you please be quiet or move away and continue your conversation somewhere else.' Very frustrating."

Reader giveaway: We have 2 double passes (worth $190.00 each) to give away to each of Robyn's next Breakfast Clubs - Wellington 30th November; Christchurch 7th December, Auckland February 1st; Tauranga February 22nd.

To be in to win, email your entry now to with Breakfast (NZ Herald Online) in the subject line. Entries close by 5pm Friday 23rd November for Wellington, Friday 30th for Christchurch. For those who miss out, tickets and more details at: