Open Offices Aren’t Always the Solution

What’s with the latest craze in the office organization of the service industry? Are we really going back to huge, open spaces with no sense of privacy at all? With companies like Facebook, Google, and even smaller companies like Valve praising the open office concept, it sure seems like it will be here to stay for awhile. That’s unfortunate, because open offices suck!

The Concept

Look, I get it. Someone saw the cube farms and said, “Why are all these people locking themselves away? We need to be more collaborative! Our products are failing because no one is talking to each other. Tear down these walls!” Down came the walls. Soon enough the facility planners were shuffling desks together, removing all partitions, knocking down walls and replacing them with fishbowl style glass walls, and preaching Agile processes. All the while the seasoned veterans are running for the doors as quick as possible.

The Good

There really isn’t a whole lot that I like about open offices (as an introvert), so this might be a biased section. However, I will say that open offices do encourage you to talk to people near you that you normally wouldn’t. This can be a good thing in the sense that you get to know your coworkers. But when a project needs to be worked on diligently, the open office spaces seem to encourage people to just chit chat about random stuff all day. Joking, yelling, talking loudly, and throwing stuff around is just a little bit of what can be experienced in an open office. See, I wasn’t really a good candidate to praise whatever virtues open offices may have.

Is this my desk? Cool. Wait, why is the guy across from me turning on his radio. Oh wonderful, I guess I’ll learn to like Insane Clown Posse.

The Bad

The walls weren’t the only thing to fall. Efficiency, privacy, and and overall sense of quiet-time came crashing to a halt. Where you once had the opportunity to sit, relax, and think on a problem without much interruptions, you’re now constantly bombarded from all senses. Annoying coworkers throwing a beach ball around? Yea, it’s in your line of sight. People blasting music because it’s “collaborative?” Sorry, you just have to put up with LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR until 5 PM. Deal with it. Forget about concentrating on anything useful when this kind of behavior is tolerated or even encouraged by the management.

All Things In Moderation

To be honest, I’m sure there are varying levels of the open office concept. Some offices have no partitions, low partitions, half partitions, or see-through partitions. Others may have only glass walls, some glass walls, or no walls. I’ve worked in the most extreme concept of open offices in which the entire office is one large space with no separation between desks and only glass walls between other rooms.

There were literally no opaque walls in my office at the time of working there. Imagine that for a second. You’re in a meeting room next in between another meeting room and a group of desks. To your left is a bunch of people being loud in their “pod” and to your right is another meeting being super loud and visually distracting. Forget about even trying to accomplish whatever you were doing in your meeting.

My point is that these facility planners need to realize that pure open offices just don’t work. People who aren’t collaborative before aren’t going to be enthused about being forced into this position. People who are extroverts are just going to be loud, obnoxious, and bother other people who need to be silent in order to concentrate. The bottom line is that we need to moderate these types of offices so that both types of workers are satisfied. Stop forcing everyone into a bullpen of insanity.