My first job out of college was a telesales job in a small publishing company. After the comparatively easy-going atmosphere of education, I found myself in a busy, noisy office, filled with young people sat at desks with little more than a phone, a headset, a full ashtray (yes, it was that long ago), and an expectation to make a minimum of 70 phone calls a day. The atmosphere was fun, loud, competitive and more than a little rambunctious. It was a baptism of fire. It was work hard, play hard. A proper sales office. It wasn't exactly Boiler Room (thank goodness), but it was something of an education, and I learned an enormous amount from the time I spent there.
The thing is, I don't think I'd have learned half as much half as quickly if it had been a different type of environment. Many offices you walk into these days (even some sales offices) are comparatively quiet because people are communicating via email. In some, the loudest sound is the tapping of keyboards. It's a point that David Hepworth notes, his observation being that we learn at work in the way we learn most other things – by copying at first and then gradually developing our own style. If the modern office environment makes it more difficult to copy, it's likely that it's making it more difficult to learn.
Some would no doubt say that too much surrounding noise is bad for productivity, and there's undoubtedly certain types of work that require quiet and space. But I wonder if the counterpoint to this is that we simply learn quicker and better if we're surrounded by more overt evidence of how people are doing their daily work. Which is perhaps another reason why the kind of practices I see in some areas – encouraging talking rather than email, short, stand-up meetings, whiteboards on the walls with people clustered round them – are a good thing.