Why open offices are terrible


#1

[Read the post]


#2

WHAT?? Those are the key to ultimate happiness! I don’t understand how anyone but a total prude could…

…ooohhh. I thought you said “open orfices.”


#3

Most everything about my days as a Big Law lawyer were awful, but there was never any risk of not having my own office. Even when I’ve been in-house at companies with open architecture, the specter of a waiver of attorney-client privilege always let me have an office with a door that locked.


#4

I work in an open office and like it. I think the key is that it only works in environments where > 95% of your work is silent on your computer. Then, things are pretty quiet and distractions are minimal. It helps promote occasional small conversations which are helpful for those in them and are not distracting to the rest of us. It really does promote collaboration.

Where open offices fail is when even a small percentage of work ( e.g. > 5%) is being done on the phone. Phone conversations are terribly distracting to other people and lack privacy for those on the call.

So, open offices are great if the only people are around are programmers/writers. It’s awful for sales, support, etc.


#5

They are also the ultimate expression of the triumph of the extrovert - and yet another manifestation of the solipsism fallacy (like other terrible management structures) since those who do thrive in that environment are the ones who then tend to get promoted and, obviously, think that the systems that suited them must, by definition, be the best and right ones…


#6

We just got a new office and it’s like a boiler room. A brand-new designer boiler room, but it’s still a noisy racket. Thank God I can work from home, where I only have the world’s loudest kitten to thwart me.


#7

Oh man, totally agreed!

Best environment I worked in we had small, private offices (and a few banks of tall cubes) and a more than enough large, fully functional war rooms (networked and such) with a number of them that couldn’t be blocked off and were first-come first-serve.

That worked really, really well. I had my privacy when I needed to focus on something,1:1s or really small meetings were fine in the offices, and for larger groups there was usually a war room open to bounce things off of each other in.

So basically: the opposite.


#8

i am going into an open office, but the nice part is there are no phones. just cell phones. so when someone takes or makes a call they jump into a room.

i used to work in a call center, and if that hadn’t had partitions i would have strangled everybody.


#9

The concept of “knocking before entering” is obviously lost on the “open office” idea. Thusly you have zero privacy, me no likey that.


#10

Not really news, is it?

You know what’s worse than an open plan layout in 2016? An open plan layout in 1986 with every other person chain smoking cigarettes or, worse, cigars. And no headphones or quiet texting. Ugh.


#11

At least in 1986 computers would be pretty common. I can’t imagine what it would be like in those pictures of 1950s news rooms with an open office with manual typewriters on every desk.


#12

In 1986, computers were not at all common in the workplace.


#13

In my experience there may have been a few (relatively quiet) electric typewriters still in use by then, but 1986 was the heyday of WordPerfect and Lotus 123, both of which needed PCs.


#14

I like the fact that a lot of the things cited in this article date back to 2005 or early. So why exactly did my office go to open concept in 2012? Seven years wasn’t enough to catch up on how bad they are, I guess.

But I think the real reason for open offices is just less square footage. Cram everything closer together and save on rent. Rent is something people can quantify, employee performance, for most, is not.


#15

Two things that are worse: first, open offices where you have to sign up each week to even get a desk, a different one each week. A friend who worked in gummint had that.

Second, laboratories on an open plan, as we had before I left gummint. It was a brand new building. We got to help with the specs. But despite our arguing against it, management and architects LOVED the open plan, where we could “collaborate more.” This huge open bay had a bank of floor to ceiling windows along one giant football length wall (“Natural light is good! What, you need temperature control?”). Fortunately we convinced them that the lab using the high-power laser probably needed a few more walls and a door.


#16

There are no simple answers here. For every person whose productivity is ruined by distraction and noise, there are 10 others that may thrive on the creative buzz of an open plan workspace. That said, some kinds of work - editing - is a solitary task, while others - creative design for example - is a team activity that benefits from the open environment. Its also a teaching environment where staff gets to observe how managers successfully and unsuccessfully manage their project challenges.

The take away, know thyself and thy own work. And those who decide how their workplaces are organized - the design of your office is a tool for higher productivity and profit. Realize your different people will perform best in different environments, and if you are smart you’ll strive to provide them with the setting where they can do the best work for you. And some people won’t fit - thats fine too.

And hire a good Architect to help you make these decisions.


#17

Compared with standard offices, employees [working in open offices] experienced more uncontrolled interactions…

—exactly the reason cited by Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat, who is all in on this idea—

…higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation.

Hmm. Well, that’s not g—

office commotion impairs workers’ ability to recall information, and even to do basic arithmetic…

Okay, this is starting to sound like a bad ide—

Open offices also remove an element of control, which can lead to feelings of helplessness.]…] the ability to control the environment had a significant effect on team cohesion and satisfaction. When workers couldn’t change the way that things looked, adjust the lighting and temperature, or choose how to conduct meetings, spirits plummeted.

Well, best luck to you and your employees, Mike. Hope you held onto your old lease.


#18

[quote=“jhbadger, post:13, topic:71535, full:true”][quote=“TheirFeldspars, post:12, topic:71535, full:true”]
In 1986, computers were not at all common in the workplace.
[/quote]
In my experience there may have been a few (relatively quiet) electric typewriters still in use by then, but 1986 was the heyday of WordPerfect and Lotus 123, both of which needed PCs.
[/quote]
I think it depends greatly on the industry. In education and mid-sized business, it was mostly about electric typewriters, with maybe two computers in the entire office of a dozen people.


#19

[quote=“lava, post:16, topic:71535, full:true”]
There are no simple answers here. For every person whose productivity is ruined by distraction and noise, there are 10 others that may thrive on the creative buzz of an open plan workspace. [/quote]
I think you have that ratio way off. I spent a few days in December sitting in the “open office” hot desk space at a client’s main data processing site, and nobody I spoke with “thrived” on the buzz of the open plan workspace; at best, they tolerated it.

I only managed to put up with it for my time on-site by wearing the noise-cancelling headphones which I had brought along for the flight there and back. With phones and keyboards and side conversations, the noise level was beyond distracting.

I suspect a big part of the problem was that the “open plan” was imposed on a room that had previously been retrofitted into a cube farm from it’s original life as factory production floor, and very little thought or expense went into soundproofing or other noise control measures.


#20

And that’s Management 101. It’s absolutely staggering to me that people still don’t seem to have figured this out: it’s not about you, it’s about them. (Personally, I think the actual problem is the layer above this; my own theory of management is that any company that needs managers to manage the managers is probably getting too big and it’s those companies that are the ones that generally give “capitalism” a bad name. We have this broken system of largely pyramidal hierarchies in which the Peter Principle can enjoy its full potential.)
Optimise the workspace for the employees and they will maximise their productivity. But try to impose a single solution? Pretty much never works.