how is your work space hurting your productivity?

We’ve talked here plenty about the annoyances of cubicles and open plan offices — distractions from chit-chatting coworkers, no privacy, people who insist on having loud speaker phone conversations, and so forth. And yet companies keep up their relentless move toward less and less private work spaces.

I want to know how your work space has impacted your productivity. What’s helping, and what’s getting in the way you getting things done? What’s the real impact of your loudly singing coworker on your ability to focus? Share your thoughts in the comments.

{ 335 comments… read them below }

  1. Kai*

    I am responsible for greeting a lot of guests, accepting deliveries, etc., but my desk is in a partial cubicle and I can’t see the door without awkwardly snaking my head and shoulders around the cubicle wall. Can’t rearrange the cubicle or anything like that. With people coming in and out all day it can get tiresome.

    I’ve trained myself to usually be able to tell when it’s just a coworker walking in versus when it’s someone who needs help (I can identify certain people by how quickly they open the door or how heavy their footfall is!).

      1. Kai*

        Holy moly, that might actually work. I’ve been here nearly three years and never thought of that!

        1. HR Guy*

          We have a mirror like that in my office. It allows you to see the door without getting up and poking your head out of the office. I recommend it!

          1. Fiona*

            Yep, our front desk has one station that faces backwards, and they have a mirror so that person can keep an eye on the door.

        2. businesslady*

          I had to do that at an old job–I was in a corner by a hallway & I was constantly being distracted by swiveling my head to see who was behind me.

          there are probably a lot of different solutions, but my mirror was an impulse buy at a random convenience store that clearly catered to truckers. it was basically like a large, slightly fish-eyed side mirror on a car, & I think it cost $6.

          1. Vicki*

            I’ve been in the habit of facing away from the hallway for most of my career.

            I started using a mirror when a former manager had the habit of walking quietly into my cube without knocking or speaking and just… standing… behind me until the pressure on my psyche made me turn around.

    1. Judy*

      Also, would it help to have some sort of light on your desk, so you know when the door is open? (Not a buzzer that could annoy others, but a light)

    2. athek*

      In my old office, people would laugh at me because I could tell if it was one of our office mates coming through the door by the way their footsteps sounded down the hall and how they opened the door.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Me too! I knew all the people who worked there by a combination of footfalls, keychain rattles, and accessories (such as one woman’s rolling briefcase, which was her dead giveaway).

  2. Lara*

    Ugh. My desk is in a very open area of a highly-trafficked office. It can be difficult to focus, and privacy is a concern. Even if I’m “on lunch,” I never feel like I can check personal email/browse the internet because someone is always walking by and commenting on my screen.

    1. themmases*

      Ask to get a privacy screen! They cover your monitor pretty easily and make the screen appear black from anywhere but directly in front of it. I had one when I worked in an open area with people constantly walking behind me, and it helped a lot.

      At first I was scared to ask for one because I worried my boss would think I just wanted to be on Facebook or something, but I ended up very glad that my coworker pushed it. He turned out to be very sympathetic to how annoying it is to feel people are always looking over your shoulder, no matter what you’re working on.

      1. Kristen*

        Yes! Those screen are awesome for privacy, and I think they’re helpful on the eyes when you need to read long documents and keep up a dead stare at the screen for hours, like I often have to.

      2. Lia*

        Another vote for the privacy screen! I got one when I lost my office for a cube that initially put my back to traffic. I worked on a lot of highly confidential projects and the screen was an easy sell.

        I did move my PC to be at a 90 degree angle to the aisle, though. I work with headphones on a lot and people would sneak up behind me and scare me.

        1. Lara*

          Great suggestion guys, thanks! It sounds like I’m complaining about not being able to futz around on the internet all day- but I do end up working on confidential or projects and a privacy screen would definitely help.

          1. themmases*

            I was worried about that, too, but my boss ended up having his own stories about rude people who would walk behind him to talk to him and try to see what was on his desktop. It is legitimately distracting even if you’re doing everything you should and nothing is confidential– it felt like someone watching me do math. The fact that some of your work is actually confidential just strengthens your case.

          2. Admin*

            Thanks for posting this! I’m dealing with this problem now and just asked our IT guys for privacy screens. Didn’t even know these existed!

            1. Julie*

              I thought I had a privacy screen until I realized that everyone can still see what’s on my monitor. I had to laugh when I realized that it’s just an anti-glare screen. Oh well – it’s a good thing I wasn’t relying in having a privacy screen!

  3. E.R*

    I spend a lot of my time on the phone, and a good chunk of that is making outbound calls. In an open-plan office. It would definitely be easier on me to have privacy – like an office with a door I can shut – for making effective calls (mostly because i worry about how silly i sound if my coworkers overhear me, rather than because they distract me, i prefer it when they are noisy!). But it is also really useful to have my coworkers and team tell me their ideas and answer my questions without having to make much effort. My perfect situation lies somewhere in between an open plan and complete segregation, but probably leans more towards the latter.

    1. Kai*

      Ugh, this. People like to stare at me when I’m on the phone, even for the most normal and boring call. It’s so uncomfortable.

    2. Jen in RO*

      I hate making phonecalls where people can hear me. Even if it’s just a family member! Having to do this in an open space office would be horrible.

      1. Broke Philosopher*

        I hate it when people can hear me too! I work part-time in a clinic that doesn’t really have space for me. They stick me in this office where they have to collect the urine samples (when you have to put your urine sample into the cupboard thing in the bathroom, the other cupboard door opens into my office). So I’ll be on the phone with someone, and a nurse will come in going, “I’m just here to grab some pee!”

        1. Anonymous*

          As a patient, I’m jealous of that arrangement. Carrying a bottle of pee down the hall always seemed rather icky.

        2. Anonymous*

          Gee, I thought I was the only unfortunate soul to work in a space like that. Coworkers also use this as a “shortcut”. My fave is when I am obviously eating lunch and they walk in and say, “Oh, are you eating your lunch? I’ll just take a minute.”

      2. hamster*

        I thought the same . But then, i worked a year in a support center, and I was near colleagues who talked with customers all the time so i got used to it. It doesn’t bother me anymore. But for personal calls i would still go out the buiding, on in the hall/break room/on the stairs etc.
        Now my office plan has phone booths soundproofed ( sort of ) and you can go there if you feel like. People only use them for personal calls though. I’m to lazy to drag my laptop from my desk. And i prefer to be near my team. It’s a lot better for collaboration and if one of us is during a call / having an issue, the others can quicky support him. The collaboration spirit is really amazing. That being said, we had to move around a lot to arrive at the ideal grouping.

        1. Jamie*

          Call center designers – please take into account that I cannot stand to hear other customer service reps/tech support talking to other customers while someone is trying to help me.

          I’m distracted by it, I can’t imagine how awful it is to have to work like that.

          I don’t know what you people who design those rooms need to do, but you need to fix this before I have to call anyone again.

  4. VictoriaHR*

    Semi-open plan office here. We have 4-cube pods and low walls, so it’s easy enough to see the person on the other side of the wall when you stand up. Everyone can hear everyone else’s conversations.

    In the pod next to me is a young lady who is very focused on her diet and exercise – to the point that my cubemate and I have a faux-drinking game where we pretend to take a shot every time we hear her yapping about her exercise regimen or what she ate that day.

    Across the pod from me are two gents who continually fidget and jiggle and the noise is extremely distracting. I wear headphones as much as I can, but I am on the phone a lot so I can’t always do that.

    I make a lot of calls and I think some people have complained about hearing me, because my supervisor once offered to have me use a conference room to do my interviews, but I figure if they don’t like it, they can give me my own office. Otherwise, this is my cube and I’ll make my calls here, thanks.

    1. Wonderlander*

      This is very similar to my situation – a long rectangular open space with 4 cubes in it. Two of the four cubes are 3 sided, so there’s a small amount of noise-cancellation and privacy for those cubes. BUT, the other 2 cubes are really one large cube that 2 of us have to share! It has a common printer in it and opens up to a very heavily-trafficked hallway. I share this extra-large cube with a health nut, and she comments on everything I eat. The first time I brought in McDonalds for lunch, she said, “I might have to ask you to eat those fries somewhere else.” I was pretty disgusted by her brazenness, so I said, “Well I might have to ask you to eat your salad somewhere else.” And that was the last time she ever said that… But she still comments on how “good” my fries smell. I mostly just bring soup or Lean Cuisines for lunch now.

      Back to the main point, productivity. I think this extra-large cube is awful for my productivity. Cube-sharing co-worker talks loudly (sometimes even yelling) and has some pretty deep, long-winded phone conversations. Everyone tends to butt into each others’ business, and I just think it sucks. I would prefer a lot more privacy.

      1. Vicki*

        I would comment on your fries, not because I’m on a health kick or because they smell god but simply because they _smell_.

        I shared a cube with a woman; she’d bring in her lunch and I’d get up and leave.

        Some of us have a real problem with food smells. Just check the archives for this site!

    2. AB Normal*

      I used to work in a similar environment, and what helped was that we have several “focus rooms” in our floor, with a phone, internet connection, and a table behind closed doors.

      Any time I had to do analytical work that required concentration, I’d leave a note at my desk explaining I’d be in one of the focus rooms, and to IM me if someone needed to talk (so that I could then tell them which room I was, as you’d have to go around to find an empty one).

      I liked this arrangement, as sometimes it was nice to be in a shared cubicle were you can collaborate with your colleagues when the noise won’t interfere with what you are doing.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        We have rooms like that too, which people are encouraged to use for mini-meetings, conference calls, etc. where they will be using speakerphones.

        I’m in a cube farm with high-walled cubes, but they do NOTHING to block sound. People in the next row do phone support and I have to listen to them all day. It’s tough when I’m editing and need to concentrate. I bought some noise-reducing headphones (I can’t afford the blocking ones–yipes), and put a crapton of music on my phone. That usually helps because it blocks most of the talking and the music (I listen almost exclusively to classical or soundtracks) helps me focus on the actual work.

        1. AB Normal*

          I feel for you, Elizabeth! I don’t know that I would be able to work on something that requires so much concentration such as editing without noise-reduction headphones either. Good that you were able to get some for you, and nobody objects to their use (which would be stupid in your case, but as we know, there are a lot of stupid workplaces out there ;-).

    3. Jax*

      Every morning there is a what-I-ate-for-dinner recap complete with calorie counts in the office next to me. My office mate and I put finger guns to our heads and pull the trigger.

    4. Vicki*

      I once had a cube with low walls where I could see the person across from me. I went to the hardware store and bought a 4’x8′ sheet of translucent plastic which I had cut so that I had a slice that was 8′ long and 2′ high. I placed this behind my monitor, between his desk and mine. Light got through but faces were just ripples.

      Better than hating on the co-workers.

  5. Cube Diva*

    OldJob was the WORST for productivity. It was an open-concept office at the front of a community center. If a community member needed to fax something (for example), they’d walk in and announce it. We’d be expected to jump and help, completely cutting us off from our immediate task. This happened at least 8-10 times per day, and made longer-term/focus tasks nearly impossible. There were 10-12 people in the “bull pen,” and only the ED had an office with a door. This was a major reason I was distracted a lot, and it definitely cut into my ability to perform well.

    Now, I’m in a cube (at a more corporate atmosphere). However, I found the gray walls were awful for my productivity, since I write all day long. So, I hung up pashmina scarves and lots of fun pictures on the walls. That way, I’m more inspired, and don’t feel like I’m in cube-jail all day long. :) Also- there are only about 6 people in our little “corner” of the building. While there IS talking, there are blocks of time (think hours) where we’re all working on respective projects. I love that I can customize my space, AND be allowed to work at my own pace.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      My company repainted our offices gray last year. It was supposed to be “hip” and “modern.” Mostly, it feels clinical and depressing. I’ve found that really bright artwork and lamp lighting helps, but that also means that I’m spending my own money to solve a problem created by the company.

      1. VictoriaHR*

        One job I had, the walls were this gray with speckles in it, custom blend, so we couldn’t hang anything on the walls, even birthday decorations or whatnot, for fear that tape would pull the paint off.

        1. Kay*

          Command Strips FTW! I would hate to not be able to hang things up. I don’t in my current job because I’m basically in a reception area, so I don’t have a lot of personal items, but my boss has decorated with some pretty interesting things that at least are not depressing like grey walls.

          1. Jamie*

            Sometimes I wish I could post a pic. My office wallpaper is very reminiscent of what I imagine Opie Taylor had on his walls as a small boy.

            Not all of it, 2 walls are a staid dark blue cloth – very business like. But the other two? It’s a conversation starter, that’s for sure.

          2. Kelly O*

            Careful with command strips.

            I used them on the walls in this office and needed to move something. When I pulled down to remove the adhesive, it pulled the paint off. Thankfully I was putting something over the spot, but yeah, makes me rethink the general command adhesive issue (and want to remove something in my daughter’s room to make sure our apartment paint won’t be messed up.)

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Our cubes are blue and gray on this floor, with the office walls a dark blue. I hung nerd posters in my cube–the original Star Wars one, a giant red Gryffindor Quidditch banner, and the starship Enterprise. There’s a TARDIS on my desktop. :)

        1. Jamie*

          I would so target you to be my new work BFF if I walked by your cube and saw that.

          Then you’d report the crazy IT to HR because she keeps wanting to talk to you about Harry Potter and you’re just trying to work…it would devolve into legal action.

          Good thing we don’t work together…I don’t want to go to HR.

          1. Al Lo*

            I think I’d also be part of that geek clique (although my banner would be Ravenclaw).

    2. Windchime*

      I have dingy beige cubicle walls. I went to Target and got a fabric shower curtain with a bright, graphic print and cut panels to custom-fit the walls of my cube that are behind my monitor. So at least I’m looking at a fun print while I do my work.

    3. Missy*

      Our cubes are all gray, so I brought in a fabric remnant and my big cheap box of sewing pins, and just pinned the fabric up. Easily removed, and it brightens the cube up immensely.

    4. Vicki*

      A former co-worker hung brocade fabric on her interior cube walls and laid a small imitation oriental carpet on the floor. :-)

  6. jade*

    I have my own office (yay!) but I am in a corner next to both my manager and my manager’s boss. As a result, I overhear WAY more than I should and I get pulled to talk to both of them about program issues much more than my other coworkers. It’s a double-edged sword, because they offer me speaking/networking opportunities first a lot of the time, but I have also been asked to “tattle” on my manager to her boss when she isn’t around.

    Also, my manager’s boss has a really annoying habit of yelling my/my manager’s name instead of just getting up and walking three feet to our door. She does this repeatedly, even when I’m on the phone with clients/donors. So irritating.

  7. Us, Too*

    I actually find collaborative workspaces very useful when done RIGHT. We have 3 walled (1 side totally open) half cubicles where I work plus some reservable conference rooms.

    The cubes are fine. I don’t think everyone needs a private office. However, they need to be taller and have a fourth wall for sound control. Every phone call, soft drink can opening, typing sound, etc can be overheard. That’s no good for productivity at your desk.

    Conference rooms: There aren’t enough of them which forces a lot of (loud, disruptive) conversations into the hallway. I’d rather see some public areas that are open and away from desks for impromptu, casual conversations with more conference rooms available for private conversations. Also, all our conference rooms have large windows out to the hallway which makes having a truly (visually) private conversation impossible. There need to be rooms that don’t have windows in them because, let’s face it, not every presentation should be viewable to anyone walking by.


    1. Mouse*

      “Every phone call, soft drink can opening, typing sound, etc can be overheard. That’s no good for productivity at your desk.”

      Agree!! I am sensitive to sounds, and am highly aware of everything going on around me at all times – so anything like gum chewing, pencil tapping, sniffling, knuckle cracking, nail clipping, throat clearing, banging your mouse around….all drive me nuts. I use ear plugs to concentrate.

      This has also made me incapable of eating any food around co-workers in a quiet office. I am super paranoid they can hear every crunch, crackle, swallow and hate it.

      1. Windchime*

        I am also highly sensitive to sound, so I find conversations to be extremely distracting. There are times when I am surrounded (cubeville) by 5 or 6 animated, unrelated conversations. It’s so distracting and I can’t see how anyone is getting anything done.

        At OldJob, the developers were all in a room upstairs. It was heaven, because we all wanted quiet so therefore we all WERE quiet. If a conversation that was more than a minute or two needed to happen, we had a space outside our room where we could go and whiteboard. It was wonderful.

    2. Vicki*

      Your version of “collaborative office space” is many people’s version of Cubicle. Where I live, “collaborative” means “open plan” means long tables with elbow-to-elbow people facing each other . Ugh.

  8. Anonymous*

    We have shared cubicle spaces, so we aren’t completely in an open space, but it does require us to be “on” all the time. We are customer facing, but we share a room with the IT guys. We have a lot of customer interaction, and they don’t, so they tend to get a little rowdy at the most inopportune times. It’s very distracting and while we can likely go to their managers after the fact, if the meeting is lost, it’s lost.

    It also requires us to be “on” at all times for people to pop up and ask questions (work, and non work related), even if we need to dig into our work. Another issue, the managers can’t have strategic phone conversations without everyone hearing what’s going on. They get an extra wall on their cubes, but what does that really do?

    It does have benefits. We can have informal meetings if one of us has a quick question. But the setbacks seem to really outweigh the positives.

    I guess I also have a question.. what’s the alternative for cubicles for large companies? I’m guessing not everyone can have their own office..

    1. Ash*

      At the very least, cubes with sliding doors and higher walls. They help noise if only a little bit.

      1. Judy*

        My last cubicle shared a (to the ceiling) cubicle type wall with a conference room. I’m pretty sure the wall gave minimal sound dampening. I might as well have been in all those meetings.

    2. Julie*

      I had the same problem several years ago when I shared a small office with the two people who reported to me. I had to book a conference room every time I needed to have a phone call that was not appropriate for them to hear, and there weren’t many conference rooms available. I hated that setup!

    3. Vicki*

      ACtually, everyone camn. Or could, at least, in the early 90’s.

      I worked at a company that was movong into a pair of new buildings. The facilities folks looked into the cost of standard (65″ high walls) cubicles, 80″-high cubicle walls, and hard-walled (sheetrock) offices wuth doors. The offices were well within budget.

      They weren’t huge, about 8×10 , and only some had windows, but by golly and thank Dog they had _doors_! And their own lights switches!

      Other companies have done the same – Apple (around the same time), Microsoft. So yes, it can be done and it’s not prohibitively expensive.

  9. pgh_adventurer*

    My workspace is my home office. It’s awesome! I have a stand-up desk, a sit-down desk, and an armchair. The only thing that hurts my productivity is when the cat wants to lay on my keyboard :)

    1. Andrea*

      Haha, I came here to say the same thing! I also work from home and have a stand-up desk and a sitting desk. And cats. Sometimes they want to play when I’m working. It’s annoying, but not as annoying as working with other people in or around my workspace, which I could not handle.

      I have allergies and really sensitive senses of smell and hearing. Basically, I can smell and hear everything, and it is really distracting, and I don’t like to have things in my ears to block the sound. I can’t be around smokers, ever, not even when they aren’t smoking, because the lingering smell makes me wheeze and causes my eyes to itch. Perfume and hairspray also make my eyes itch. So I work from home. I take medications that only do so much, I’m pretty sure that no workplace anywhere would be willing/able to work with me on that stuff, and I’ve never worked with people who were particularly considerate. I probably ought to live in a bubble. I do love working from home, though. I hated so much about working in cubes besides that stuff, like not having control of the thermostat, business casual clothing and shoes (I don’t wear shoes in my house or in my office), not being able to listen to my own music, coworkers taking my snacks or supplies (which I bought), etc., etc.

      1. Vicki*

        OMG Andrea you and me both.

        For a short time at LastJob, the person in the next cube would apply scented hand sanitizer Every Time he came back to his cubicle.

        And then there was the morning that someone 6 cubes + the corridor away (60 ft?) had left his blackberry in the office and the alarm was going off.

      2. EvaR*

        Perfume doesn’t bother me, nor does smoke, but those chemical air fresheners make me ill.

        Also, my company rents a building that used to be a hotel. At some point someone planted lovely, highly allergenic flowering shrubs outside the building. Whatever pollen is in them seems to linger in the ventilation of the building somehow for a very long time. Because people are sneezing and coughing so much, they spread germs more.

    2. Lillie Lane*

      I just started in a home office, too! I’ve got a sit-down desk with two monitors and a docking station, and I made a simple treadmill desk so I can grab my laptop and work from the treadmill when I feel like it. Love this job!

    3. Vicki*


      Or lie on my arm and I need to type with one hand.

      (I've been away from LastJob and Cubeland for 2 years now.)

  10. AnonEMoose*

    My current cube is at the end of a hallway, so fairly quiet. But for some reason, when people walk down the row between cubes, if they hit certain spots on the floor, it shakes my whole cube. You can see the monitors shaking on my desk, and my chair shakes, too. It’s really distracting.

    1. Lillie Lane*

      I worked in a place that had semi-permanent walls a few years ago. When the walls started shaking and banging once, I thought my obnoxious coworker was shoving furniture up against our shared wall just to annoy me. I was really mad — then I realized it was an earthquake!

  11. Lisa*

    At 430 pm or even earlier, the talkers grab a beer and start congregating like the day is over in our open office environment, which makes it impossible to have client calls or work without being distracted by talking, laughing, stomping in place, and loud exclamations from this crowd. Hopping to another persons cube for 10 feet in clogs is considered appropriate in my office as is exclamations of “hot dog” and generally thinking the day is over at 330 – 530, but management only says that those people don’t get raises or promotions and they know who does it. For those of us busting our butts and drowning in work, it tells us that you can slack off and have no real consequences since those people do still get raises even though their work is sub-par and clients routinely ask to be switched to other account leads or complain that the work isn’t as good as it should be for what they are paying. On days where people start acting like its ok to discuss OKcupid for 2 hours at the end of the day, the bosses sneak out the back and don’t bother to stop the behavior when the ‘workers’ are screaming on IM to each other that we want the group to shut up, and go home rather than stay til exactly 530 and take off, when they are not working anyway. It makes us feel not valued at all and they we are burning out while others can skate and not put the same effort in.

  12. CM*

    Shared office with two office mates–one plays orchestral pieces mixed with Let It Go from Frozen all day long–loudly. The other is generally off site, so its just me and the orchestra.

    I take a lot of in bound calls, so headphones are usually more cumbersome than useful.

      1. Jennifer*

        My coworker blasts the same damn country music station all day, every day, for 9 hours a day. Everyone else decided before I got there that they liked it. Man, I am so sick of hearing the same tunes EVERY DAY, especially the crappier ones. I went so far as to make a bingo game of the songs at one point….

        1. Cath@VWXYNot?*

          heh, we used to listen to a radio station like that when I was a grad student – it was of the bland and inoffensive variety, everybody’s second choice kind of thing. They repeated their tunes so often that we’d have conversations like “how long have you been working on this assay? “Oh, three Coldplays and a couple of U2s”

          1. Anne*

            >“how long have you been working on this assay? “Oh, three Coldplays and a couple of U2s”

            Amazing. :D

          2. Vicki*

            Why is it that labs always have someone running a radio?
            I’ve worked at three BioTechs.
            Now I know I really made the right decision to go into programming and not bench science after college.
            As soon as you sad “assay” I thought, well, duh. Lab!

      2. tcookson*

        “Adele Dazeem”

        You’ve got to use the Buzz Feed Travoltafier to see how John Travolta would mangle your name if you were nominated for an Oscar.

  13. Yup*

    My department of 10 people shares an open plan space. We each have our own small desk.

    Good productivity things: Easy to resolve quick issues or get simple questions answered. I pick up a ton of information via proximity that serves me well later. I got to know my colleagues really quickly upon starting the job, which ramped up the productivity curve of the working relationship. I rarely feel like I’m isolated in trying to deal with an urgent problem because there’s also someone around to ask, “Who should I talk to about this?” Also, we have a ton of windows so having all the natural light is wonderful.

    Bad productivity things: I work best in organized & relatively quiet spaces, and sharing space means there’s lots of distracting visual/audio clutter. People being so close together encourages never-ending “quick questions” that end up involving the entire room, so the regular distractions make it hard to focus on “quiet time” things like editing reports or composing a sensitive email. I have to leave my desk for every conference call, which means I spend a not insignificant amount of time running around trying to find a free conference room. Also, the tight desk space means I have zero room for storage. Which means I have stacks of things jammed together all over my desk, thus bad ergonomics and occasional binder avalanches.

    1. Karowen*

      This is basically how my office is – most departments are in cubes, but my department of 5 people is in a single large office. We have some segregation and space but not much – enough that I don’t have the tight desk space you were describing, but not enough to really work efficiently.

      It’s great when we’re working on collaborative projects or have a quick question for a co-worker, and it was great a few years ago when I was friendly enough with all of my co-workers to feel comfortable asking them to speak more quietly, but even then I would occasionally have to book a conference room to focus on a project.

      Unfortunately, with my current co-workers (who occasionally just talk all day about nothing work related) my options are to live in a conference room or to blast my music so loud (in noise-cancelling headphones) that my eardrums hate me. Phone calls are nigh on impossible because of the noise level (and no one is respectful enough to tone it down) as are meetings that I’m essentially required to have in that office.

      Long story short, open offices are awesome when everyone realizes that you’re in a working environment, not a social environment. They are much less than awesome when that is not understood.

  14. anonymous*

    I LOVE my company’s open concept. There are offices that are closed (finance, CEO, etc.), otherwise there are areas to work independently if you need quiet time, but I just put on some headphones and work away. I’ve actually removed myself from some job interview processes if they use cubicles because I find them so depressing.
    It fosters more creativity and I genuinely like people stopping by my desk and sharing their work and also hearing about others’ work around me.

      1. Anonna*

        I’m an introvert and I love my company’s open-concept office as well! To me, being an introvert means you need recharge phases of being alone or in small groups, not that you require 24 hours of isolation and hate other people.

        1. Clever Name*

          Uh, recharging in small groups still = extrovert. I’m an introvert, and sometimes I don’t even want to be in the same room as my spouse. Fortunately, he understands.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Different strokes, different folks…I’d HATE that environment, but it sounds like it really works for you!

  15. CAA*

    My last job had the worst office space I’ve ever dealt with. We were in an old two story building. My software developers’ workspaces were facing the outer walls (backs to the center of the room) at what were essentially long tables with 15″ high partitions every 40 inches. Plus we had two people in the middle of the room. As the manager, I got the part of the table that was in the corner, under the leaky part of the roof and termite droppings.

    We had hardwood floors, metal partitions, high ceilings, and everyone in the whole company had to walk through our area to get to the conference room — there was an unbelievable amount of noise. Plus we had a CEO who values “collaboration” and couldn’t understand why all the developers preferred to wear headphones and instant message each other instead of talking.

    Daily headaches due to noise; sore shoulders and wrists from typing at table-height; and stress from constantly having people walk up behind me were enough to make me a lot less productive. I can’t believe how much more I get done every day where I am now, and I attribute much of it to having my own office and being in a culture that understands developers are concentrating and quiet without constant interruption helps a lot of them to do it better.

  16. Sascha*

    At my last job, we started out in a very small converted hallway where about 6 of us had a desk along the wall (3 on one side, 3 on the other), and that was it. No privacy at all, very small desk, very bright overheard lights. I had headaches every day because of the lights, and it was difficult to do phone calls because of the noise (and we had a lot of phone calls, being a tech support team). Also, there were two guys who liked to talk about random non-work topics throughout the day – they got their work done – but the rest of us had to hear these conversations EVERY DAY and it was difficult to concentrate.

    About a year before I left we were moved to a new building with a much larger space, and had a large divided cube set up in the middle of a large room. So at least we had short cube walls…but we could still hear everything. The space was definitely not claustrophobia-inducing like the last one, but I didn’t like the complete lack of privacy. We still had the lights, too, and every day I felt like I just shut down at about 2pm and couldn’t concentrate on anything after that, so most of my days I probably only got about 4 hours of work done.

    I have an entire office to myself now at my current job, and it’s heaven. My boss prefers we keep the door open, so I still get some walk ins, but I don’t mind those as much. Also I can close the door if I need to take a phone call or work on something without interruptions. I also work from home 3 days a week, so I reserve that time for projects where I need uninterrupted focus, and my 2 days in the office are for meetings, phone calls, and working with coworkers when face-to-face conversations are needed.

    My office has a very large window that looks out onto the roof and then across campus, and while the view isn’t gorgeous, it helps my psyche to have that connection to the outside world. I also get to keep my lights off and just use natural light, so I don’t get the headaches anymore from the overheard lights.

  17. TL*

    I don’t really have a workspace and even my desk area is just temporarily and open to use for anyone who needs it.

    I’m getting a workspace soon but it took a huge fuss in the office to make that happen.

  18. Harriet*

    In my last job, we had about thirty cubes with high walls. I was lucky in that I could see and hear my boss from where I sat. What kept our productivity high was that we practiced silent office – the employees communicated by email, and phone calls were kept to the bare minimum, with longer ones taking place in the conference room. I don’t think it would work for every office, but it sure worked for us.

  19. Piper*

    We have an open floor plan and I hate it. The work I do requires me to concentrate on for long periods at a time to analyze complex qualitative and quantitative data and then create reports and design recs based on the findings. I’m constantly interrupted and several of the people who sit around me are on the phone with clients all day and a few are very loud. It’s so distracting. I like days when I can work from home because I can get so much more work done without the noise and distractions.

    Also, my desk chair sucks and makes my back hurt. And the windows aren’t properly insulated, so it’s blazing hot when the sun shines in. And our heat didn’t work properly this winter so we were all sitting there with coats, scarves, hats and gloves on. It was awesome. They finally fixed it after several complaints.

    1. amaranth16*

      Oh, my goodness, you could be me – except that right now we have traditional cubes. It’s a pretty sad layout, but there’s going to be a renovation to a more open plan this year, and I’m kind of dreading it. I really hope they preserve some private workspaces, because I do not do well with distraction and I don’t need to collaborate with nearby colleagues during my day-to-day work.

  20. I like quiet*

    My new work space has the radio playing ALL.DAY.LONG and EVERYONE else is fine with it :( I try using headphones but then people talk to me and i’m like ??? it’s so annoying.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Ugh, that would drive me insane. I cannot work with music unless I’m doing something mindless like data entry.

    2. Jennifer*

      Me too (see above post). I have headphones on, but I have to leave the sound down low enough to still be able to hear when people start talking to me from behind…which means I’m still hearing the music and every damn conversation that I don’t want to be hearing anyway.

  21. Christine*

    After reading some of these responses, I feel pretty lucky. I work in a fairly small office environment and everyone has their own office. I absolutely love having a private office, especially since I had a cubicle at my last job. There are just some days when I can’t concentrate with people talking around me, so I can shut the door and get work done when I need to. The only downside is that I tend to let it get pretty messy!

  22. A Jane*

    My challenge is the absolute lack of conference/meeting rooms in our building. The company has grown so fast that they needed to turn conference rooms into office space.

  23. themmases*

    I actually really related to the chair-less OP from the other day but read too late to comment.

    My old office was basically a hallway. In an office pod with an open area in the middle for the copier, mailboxes, etc., I sat in that middle area despite being research staff, not support. The copier’s paper tray actually overhung my desk, reducing the usable space, and people would have to move my things to pull the copier away from the wall and deal with paper jams. People would come up and ask me how to use scanner/copier functions I’d never even heard of, where to get pager batteries, where people I didn’t even know were… You name it.

    People would steal my chair, sure, and I was scared to ask for it back because it was my very first job (I eventually got over it). Worse, people would take my computer and my phone. I’d come back from lunch to find a resident (who definitely did not outrank me– not even close) using my computer to check their gmail, or I’d find that someone had been doing this and had left my computer locked. This is how I developed the bad habit of leaving my computer locked all the time myself, and never logging off or restarting until forced to. People would let their guests wait in my office area, and those guests would try to sit there and talk to me the whole time. People would lean *over* me to use my phone without asking to answer a page. People would stand directly behind me and have 15-minute conversations so close they could lean on my chair– and did, while I was sitting in it. The support staff shared an office, and if they weren’t getting along one of them would come out and start a giant copy job to get a break, right next to my desk, usually while I was on the phone.

    My coworker and I got a real, shared office when our hospital moved a couple of years ago, and we now keep the door shut all the time. People still occasionally come in to return calls or use the computer in the empty space.

    1. Judy*

      Every place I have worked has had a policy of locking the computers when you leave your desk, and activity monitors locking the pc after 10-15-20 minutes of being unused.

      1. themmases*

        Oh, I always did that– but occasionally I would be at a stopping point and lunch and just log off, rather than locking, because it made no difference. I work at a hospital, so I would never just walk way from a logged-in computer in an open area.

        Our old computers didn’t support multiple logins, so I would log off and someone else would have used the computer, walked away themselves without logging off properly, and the computer would lock after 10 minutes, locking me out of my own machine. Occasionally, someone determined to use my locked computer would reboot it to log themselves in, then leave it locked with their own credentials.

        We’re also really supposed to be logging off/turning off our computers at night– I think this is standard a lot of places to allow for routine maintenance. I would often find that someone had used and locked my computer after I went home, so I stopped doing that too. Now I reboot my computer during work hours, while I am sitting at the desk. It was the only way.

  24. Mena*

    Team huddles are encouraged, and hated, around my place. They are distracting and disruptive to those sitting in proximity. While it promotes team problem solving, those on other teams that sit near by are hugely interrupted. Some of us take to spending a portion of our day away from our desks – grab the laptop and book a conference room or sit in a corner of the cafeteria. This is probably the opposite of the point of an open floor plan but this is what has happened.

    1. Pennalynn Lott*

      I hated our daily [daily!] team huddles so much that I renamed them “team cuddles” and bought us a stuffed animal mascot that we would pass around and cuddle while the manager harangued us about the previous day’s performance. Yep, standing in the center of a cube farm (dozens and dozens and dozens of cubes) being chewed out every morning was a *fabulous* way to start the day.

      1. cecilhungry*

        I’m obviously pretty late on this, but I love your username. I laugh every time Emily Gilmore would say her name. Something about the intonation.

  25. Ash*

    I have my own office here, thankfully, but in last job was in cube land. I unfortunately can be very loud on the phone and I know I annoyed the heck out of my officemates, but there was little I could do about it. We didn’t have anywhere we could go, especially since a lot of the calls were during a period where we were all on calls doing grant reviews…

    1. Ash*

      The other thing I’ll add about the workspace debate is that its insane to me how worked up people get about who gets the better space. My previous job was federal and there was always a lot of gossip about how one person have 10 more inches of space than another person or the fighting tooth and nail when someone left a coveted window cubicle. All I wanted was a door. I could have cared less about 10 more inches or a window.

  26. AVP*

    Here is a unique situation for you all…my boss LIVES in our office.

    It’s set up so that you walk from the hallway into our main door and either enter the office or continue down the hallway to get to his apartment doorway. (We’re in downtown NYC where the live/work spaces can be unusual.)

    TBH it’s weird but I’ve come around to really liking it, mainly because he almost always works from there instead of his “real” office, which doesn’t have great heat circulation in the winter. So he’s mostly out of my hair but easily accessible when needed, and if it’s a slow day he can go about his daily life and do all the things we wish we could do like clean and cook real lunches. Which makes him relaxed, which again, makes my life easier.

    It’s led to a few weird moments, though, where I’ve left late or come in early and run into him wearing his yoga clothes. Ew.

      1. AVP*

        I know, all winter we’ve been schlepping through the subway grossness and knee-deep sludge puddles, and he just wanders in wearing sandals and teasing us. NOFE AIR.

      2. Elysian*

        I have a really short commute (5-10 min walk) and I thought it would be awesome – I actually wish it was longer sometimes because I think more physical distance could help me put mental distance between my work and home life. If I lived in the same building as my office I would feel like I was working all. the. time. even if I wasn’t.

    1. Sunflower*

      My friend used to live in an apartment building that was set up as a work/living space kind of. Every ‘space’ had 2 doors. One door led you into an office like space with a bathroom. There was a door inside of that room that led you to a living room/kitchen/bedroom & bathroom. That room could also be accessed from the hallway. The idea was for an independent person who maybe would usually work out of their home would be able to have an office space but not deal with renting a space.

      Anyway the idea obviously flopped because everything was converted into 2 bedroom apartments. It would be interesting though…

    2. MaryMary*

      I worked for an interior designer one summer in college. She lived in our loft-office part of the time, and telecommuted from Florida the rest of the time. My desk was actually in her “bedroom” (open lofted area with a futon), which was also our conference room. I didn’t mind the work arrangment, but it would drive me crazy to live on my office. I’m very private and need that separation.

    3. The LeGal*

      He might have the best commute, but how can he take a sick day when he’s not really sick? No mental health days for him! :) JK.

  27. Sunflower*

    I am required to work in the same office as my boss by him- desks are a couple feet away from each other. We both spend a good amount of time on the phone and he insists on using speaker all the time so that is a little annoying. Throughout the day there are a few quick things that I need to ask him usually so it’s helpful that he’s right next to me.

    He also has a lot of coworkers come in and talk to him during the day. It’s not distracting if it’s work related but I find it incredibly annoying when its a casual/personal conversation. I can never tell whether I’m supposed to be reacting to the joke or story also? I just zone out. I don’t care if they think it’s rude.

    My office has no windows which I HATE. Something I noticed recently is my company won’t give offices with windows out. We’ve had a couple new people start in the past few weeks and all of them have been given offices without windows while we have a few with windows available. Not sure if there is a reasoning for that but I hate not having any sunlight.

    I am also jittery and hate sitting down for too long. If I had my own office, I could freely walk around while reading over things.

    My dream is to have a treadmill desk. Maybe one day….

  28. Laura*

    When I work in an open office, which like pods of cubicles in separate areas (hope I’m explaining that right) the four of us in the pod had the same job duties…so certain times on certain days, we’d all have to make dozens of phone calls at the same time. With all four of us on the phone at once, it was really hard for me to concentrate and I couldn’t talk to people well. We all would pause our calls because of the noise. If we had more privacy, I think we all could have been more efficient.

  29. SJ*

    I’m an introvert and I find my office’s open floor plan and organizational culture completely counterproductive to my being able to concentrate and get work done! My coworkers frequently take/make personal calls, listen to music without headphones, conduct meetings in our shared spaces, and have extended personal, non-work conversations all day long. People prefer face-to-face conversations for almost everything, when an email would suffice, so I get constant interruptions from people stopping by my cube all day long. Occasionally I can work from home, and find I am MUCH more productive and relaxed when I do so!

    1. anon*

      Yeah, I also work in an open office environment. Sometimes I like the social interaction, but it’s hard to get a lot of quality work done. I have an extremely demanding job, so it’s a constant struggle. Some things people talk about apply to me, and some don’t, so I’m filtering info from all sides and distracted throughout the day. Plus, my boss loves to talk about herself and will comment on everything going on. Oh, she got a new email? We’ll hear about it. Someone pisses her off? Yay, let’s watch her freak out! It’s like a roller coaster ride. One minute she’s joking, the next minute she’s personally attacking someone. No one will stand up to her and tell her to be quiet. I don’t think she realizes or cares how annoying she is.

  30. Anon*

    I supervise four people directly and another 20 indirectly, I share an office with another department head and while I really like the guy, it’s so annoying for both me and my staff! There’s only one conference room to use in our building which houses approximately 40 staff people and one nursing mom who gets priority over our meetings (not criticizing her, but it is another complication).

    My office-mate overhears more than he should relating to my personnel issues just because all of my staff have open cubes, so my office is at least a *little* more private than theirs. I’ve also had to conduct performance appraisals and job interviews in our restaurant downstairs where the public aspect is as close to privacy as we can get. The whole situation is really infuriating and actually would have given me second thoughts about taking this job had I known beforehand!

  31. Liz*

    Horrible at my old job. Ended up having to leave because I sat across from my boss. He had an office, refused to use it. Everyone else had their own office. He would verbally abuse me on a daily basis, yell in the background when I was on the phone with clients. He would dump all the crappy projects on me, and then get ticked because they took so long, while he surfed EBay all day. He would not let me use his unused office so I could concentrate. Stress got so bad, it was affecting my health. I am in a specialized field, which is why I put up with it for so long. Jobs in my field are few and far between.

  32. Lore*

    As I have lamented many times here, my office “restacked” and went from an environment where most of my department had offices and the others large, private cubes with plenty of workspace and storage and sliding “doors” to an environment where about a quarter of us have offices (which were not redesigned) and the rest tiny cubes. I have real concentration issues with the noise factor, but the biggest productivity problems come from three things: 1) not enough space to spread out documents I need to review (proofreading, with more than one stack side by side) without completely rearranging everything else in the space every single time. It’s possible to book a conference room to spread out, but then you lose access to the PDF versions of the documents, which are super-helpful for consistency searches. (Laptops would be really helpful here. We have one for the entire department.) 2) no space where one can have both a private phone conversation and a computer–there are phone rooms (though most of those have been turned into workspace these days), but none of them has a computer, so if I need to refer to an email or, say, try to talk someone through setup instructions for a document, I have to do it with all my coworkers listening. 3) no storage–I went from three six-foot bookcases, four file drawers, three regular desk drawers, a “file buddy,” and six wall shelves to two half-size file drawers and a “cubby” the size of one of the wall shelves. Did I need every inch of that space? No. Did I need way, way more than I currently have? Yes. There are no desk drawers. We had to beg to be allowed to move our file buddies with us. I’m constantly having to go to another floor and get permission to access our library to look at a book I used to have on my shelves, or having to go somewhere far way to find a document I had to file in a random space. It’s really annoying. The only plus I have found is that we’ve had a lot of technological change, and it’s convenient to be able to take an opinion poll of methodology simply by standing up and asking the five colleagues I can see. But it’s not a good tradeoff.

  33. Ms Enthusiasm*

    I think more thought needs to be put into deciding which teams sit next to each other. I’m in Accounting and need to concentrate but the Marketing people right on the other side of the cube wall are pretty loud. Also, I wish I had more storage space.

    1. Windchime*

      Yes, this. Here is what I think: Put the quiet people on one side of the room. This is where you’ll find the developers and analysts who need quiet, distraction free environments. Put the talkers (trainers, project managers, people who like to roam around and visit and giggle all day) on the other side of the room. That way, at least some people will be able to get work done. As it is now, it’s all mixed up and nobody is productive.

      I’m about halfway through reading the comments, and everyone is saying the same things. Most of us need some sense of our own space and the ability to have a good chunk of distraction-free time in our day. We all need it, we are all saying it–but why don’t workplaces respond? Why do they cram us all into a room with bright fluorescent lights and chaotic noise and then expect work to get done?

    2. cc*

      Do I work with you? Our accounting group is in cubicles right by the offices of the Marketing people.

    3. anon*

      Ha, yeah I work in marketing. It does attract loud people! Sometimes I feel like I don’t fit in because I’m a more restrained, quiet, private person. I’m surrounded by people who love the sound of their own voices. It’s very draining to be in an open environment, especially in a marketing dept!

      1. zoe*

        Same here…Just started a new job with a marketing company a few months ago. My desk is right in the middle of a very large cube farm, with high walls – they do nothing to block out the sound. I feel like I’m the only employee who isn’t constantly at someone else’s cube, talking and chatting and giggling. When I need to proofread or build a new ad layout, I have such a difficult time staying focused. We are allowed to use headphones…but that doesn’t help when everyone else is so incredibly social, & I’m constantly being tapped on the shoulder to be asked or told something that could have easily been emailed or IMed to me. I absolutely love my company and the work that I do, but I am having a very difficult time adjusting to this environment. To top it off, there’s one person who is particularly loud and boisterous on a daily basis. If anyone has seen that Seinfeld episode where Kramer dates a woman who heckles Jerry during a show…well, that’s my coworker. That’s exactly what her voice sounds like. Maybe I’m overly sensitive to noise, but companies should be more understanding and responsive to the diverse needs of their employees regarding working environments.

  34. JC*

    I am a researcher and most of my job involves reading and writing. In my current job I have a private office and in my last job I worked in a cube farm. Having an office has been an AMAZING change, mostly because of the noise levels and privacy. Being in a cubicle was so noisy and made it incredibly difficult to concentrate, especially to write. It definitely took a toll on my productivity. I was allowed to telework occasionally, and would take telework time to revel in the QUIET and get writing done. I used headphones and all the jazz, but it was just not the same as having a quiet office is now.

    The noise made talking on the phone difficult, too. Nevermind that everyone else had to hear me, but it always made it difficult to hear the other people on the phone. And now that I am in an office, I immediately notice when the person I am talking to on the phone is in an open office because of all of the noise I can hear in the background. Not only does it make it difficult for people to hear, but it comes across as a little unprofessional. I’m talking to someone who is a professional but it sounds like they work in a call center. (Obviously I am not judging people consciously about this, but I think it can affect how people think of you, if only subtlety.)

    The cube farm job was meeting heavy, and because no one had an office finding a meeting room was always difficult. There weren’t enough conference rooms. And then I had to waste my time and mental energy trying to find a conference room, or rescheduling until I could find a conference room—time and energy that would be better spent on the technical aspects of my job that I was hired for.

    And of course, having an office is good for personal reasons. I used to go outside with my cell phone when I wanted to, say, schedule a doctor’s appointment when I didn’t want people to overhear. I also have a window now when before I couldn’t see natural light from where I sat, which is a nice mood booster.

    In sum—my old employer clearly thought they were saving money by having cubicles, and maybe they were overall. But they definitely lost $$ in terms of lost productivity. And the change in office environment played a role when I left that organization for my current job.

    1. Editor*

      I remember reading about a redesign of AP headquarters or some other newspaper where the editors got double offices, a small private office and a work area outside it, so they could be private or be out in the open to take part in the back-and-forth in the newsroom. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s gone now, but it sounds ideal for editing — a quiet place to work and an open area for interaction.

  35. Jamie*

    We have either singular or shared offices here…I have my own but I used to share with one other person. The most people we have in an office is 3, it’s huge and more than enough for 3 large desks and walking around room. They are all in the same department so it makes it easier for discussions.

    For me personally, I didn’t mind sharing with the office mate I had – but the guy in the next office who hummed, whistled, drummed, clanked cereal bowls, chewed, hooted (as an owl), kicked around beach balls, tried to sing opera, would drum louder and louder while I was on the phone grinning wildly…I would have quit if that went on much longer.

    Having someone deliberately distracting would have driven me into another job absolutely, even though I had no other issues here. My office mate who did not annoy people like he was put on earth for that reason was fine. When he talked he had something worth saying, he listened quietly to the ball games or radio, I don’t need my own office per se – I need to not be near people who have a constant need for attention.

    I have a great set up now as my door is almost always open, but it’s still private and the hum of the servers with me and the factory outside is the perfect white noise environment. Makes me startle more easily, but definitely helps focus.

    What I need help with is physical arrangement. I know my set up isn’t very efficient and it’s always something I mean to fix when I have time. I wish I knew someone good at that kind of thing, I’d buy them lunch just to come in and tell me where to put stuff.

    I’m not good at that. Just like my house, I still have the feeling the furniture is in the wrong places, but I have no idea where else to put it.

    I think it should be the unalienable right of every employee to have their own dry erase board that no one else touches.

    1. Elizabeth*

      Ask your HR department to check if the workers’ compensation insurance has any ergonomic specialists. Many times, they will send out someone who specializes in physical arrangement/layout to cut down on repetitive stress injuries for free, just because it decreases the risk of claims.

      And I completely agree on the white board.

      1. Jamie*

        Oh, with me it’s nothing like that. I just don’t where to store all my stuff so I don’t look like I’m running an illegal CompUSA out of my office.

      2. Windchime*

        My company has an ergronimic specialist. We have desktops in our cubicles that are adjustable to basically any height; however, she has determined that there are only two hights that she will allow; one is so low that I can barely get my long legs under it. The other is for a “standing” desk, but it’s only “standing desk height” for people who are between 5’4″ and 5’8″ (I’m 5’11”). I met with her to try to get an exception becuase I would love to be able to stand, but she is sticking to her guns and insists that letting me raise my desk 2″ higher than her idea of “standing height” would be anti-ergonomic.

        So…..she is an awesome ergonomics expert, as long as everyone is the same height and types on the same keyboard and has the same chair.

        1. Jessica*

          I’m just over 5′, so this would drive me nuts, too. My desk setup is terrible, but there’s nothing I can really do about it. The desk itself is too small (not enough room for things I’m working on), but at the same time it’s too wide (can’t reach my phone on the far edge without standing up). I’d love to have a better setup, but there’s no way my company will pay for anything new for “just office staff” (we generally get cast-offs, which is why my desk is rusting out). I can’t believe an ergonomics “expert” doesn’t realize that there are many more factors than even just height (arm length, leg length, etc.) and doesn’t take all of those factors into consideration for every, single, separate employee. Ridiculous that they are paying her for a job she isn’t doing!

    2. Steve*

      For me personally, I didn’t mind sharing with the office mate I had – but the guy in the next office who hummed, whistled, drummed, clanked cereal bowls, chewed, hooted (as an owl), kicked around beach balls, tried to sing opera, would drum louder and louder while I was on the phone grinning wildly…I would have quit if that went on much longer.

      I know, I KNOW you must have been misearable. And maybe it’s just the way you’ve created the image in our heads for us, but I just found this to be hysterical!

      1. Jamie*

        My grandpa always said no horrible experience is wasted if you get a funny story out of it later.

        I can laugh. Now.

        Funny thing was my boss had told me to move and take an office a sales guy in the field used a couple times a month. I was waiting until he came into the office to tell him because I thought just boxing his stuff up without a conversation would be rude.

        Once noisy guy found out I could move HE started boxing the other guys stuff up immediately. I apparently “thwarted his creativity” and “stifled his enthusiasm for life” (and yes, both direct quotes) by being so quiet. He needed to surround himself with playful people.

        Apparently he had a clown troupe he was planning on moving into my old space…too bad it was needed by another manager who was also lacked a playful quality.

        So I called the sales guy, he was cool with it, then I left noisy boy to organize the move and do the heavy lifting on my boxes and ginormous desk.

    3. Jeanne*

      I hired my chiropractor to come to my office at lunch and do an ergonomic evaluation at OldJob and give me written recommendations, which I have since used at NewJob to set-up my workspace.

  36. Shhhh*

    I’ll start with the fact that I work best in a quiet environment with minimal distractions. Unfortunately for me, I work in an office that consists of two rows of eight cubes. I can see and hear everyone. I know the person kitty corner to me eats Fruit Loops for breakfast each morning thanks to the crunching noises for 20 minutes. One coworker talks so loudly (expletives included) that everyone can hear about her cat, her boyfriend, her nail polish, what’s she’s going to make for dinner, etc. We’ve even witnessed her twerking abilities. (Gag.) In addition to this, our office is currently being renovated (bigger, more open spaces). The construction noise is so unbelievably distracting (think saws, drilling, electric sanding, hammers pounding). The only thing separating us from all that is a plastic sheet. Trying to hold a conversation in person/on the phone is almost impossible at times. There’s no point in complaining about the noise or dust in the air because they basically say “suck it up and deal with it” or act as though it doesn’t exist. Overall, the whole environment is just blech.

  37. NylaW*

    We have cubicles in my office area but everyone really likes them. The trick is to spring for the ones with the higher 6 foot walls. They really work like offices and help keep the sound down, plus there’s no prairie dogging and less calling out loud for people. One other thing that cuts down on those things is the use of internal instant messaging clients.

    Right now, however, what’s cutting down on my productivity is the paint and solvent fumes from work being done in the hallway outside our office area. I’ve had a headache every day this week.

    1. Mouse*

      I agree that cubicles with higher walls can work great. I worked in a big room with 200 or so cube spaces, with high walls, and noise was rarely an issue. You really felt like you had your own space, but it was easy to chat with co-workers when needed.

  38. AB*

    We have an open plan office with large cube farms. Which is generally ok as most of the people aren’t at their desks for most of the day. But, there are occasions where the desks are full and the office gets really noisy. We have around 50 cubes in a large open room, and the cubes have 3 half walls so you can see the person in the cube next to you while sitting down (no 4th wall). I don’t necessarily mind it. There’s no privacy, but there aren’t a whole lot of people walking around for the most part. But the boss does sometimes sneak up behind me while I’ve got my headphones in. He thinks it’s funny to stand there until I notice and jump.
    My biggest annoyance is that the person who sits next to me is very loud. She will dial on speaker phone, or if she’s on hold, she will put it on speaker phone. We have headsets available, but she refuses to use them, and has ignored polite requests to stop with the speakerphone. I keep earphones in, but it still doesn’t drown her or her speaker phone out.

    1. Windchime*

      Yeah, speakerphone. Grrrr. We all have headsets, but my cube neighbor insists on putting the phone on speaker phone to do the dialing, so I get to listen to the dialtone, him dialing, the ringing, the person answering…..and THEN neigbhor puts on his headset. Because He Is Making An Important Call That EveryOne Must Know About.

      1. Gjest*

        Argh, a coworker at my last job used to do this in our cubicle space. Drove me bonkers!

      2. Collarbone High*

        I’m currently overhearing a call between a woman who sits 10 feet to my right and a guy who sits 30 feet to my left. They both are on speakerphone, so I can hear the entire thing in stereo, with a slight delay/echo from the speaker.

  39. Lily in NYC*

    I sit in a very open, visible area outside of my boss’ office. I hate it (but I don’t complain). People ALWAYS stop at my desk to talk or ask me questions. I’m helpful by nature, but I’m not a department assistant and it takes up way too much of my time. The worst is that people here always bring in food to share and leave it on the ledge on my desk. So I always have people hovering, eating and chatting with each other, making a mess and I either have to resist eating something I love or have to endure smelling something I don’t like. I put my foot down when someone tried to leave smoked salmon there; I despise fish and just couldn’t handle the aroma. But I guess it could be worse – at least I like my coworkers and it really only bugs me when I’m busy or trying to eat lunch at my desk in peace.

  40. The Other Dawn*

    I was had an office for years and with my new job I’m in a cubicle. I used to get so distracted when people would talk outside my office. Surprisingly, I don’t have as many issues with distractions as I thought I would being in a cubicle. The office is relatively quiet and people have their heads down most of the time. Although, there are some days where it gets a little noisy. The women on the other side of the wall talks to herself a lot and thumps her hands on the desk, or the guy next to me is on a web seminar with the speaker phone on, or people are just really chatty that day. I find a small fan drowns out a lot of noise.

  41. Kelly O*

    We are in a warehouse/garage space in the cargo area at an airport, so we are set up a little differently. There are some offices, however I share an office with the person who does payroll and a lot of general office stuff for our station manager.

    The downside is, the one office with windows went to the regional VP who is not here very much. So there is this lovely, large office that isn’t used much with a window, and we are stuck in this oddly shaped office with no windows. Our door opens into the conference room, which makes for some awkward moments when you need to duck out to the restroom or to make copies or scan things.

    We have regular desks – like the kind you’d buy at the office supply store, and I never thought I’d miss a cubicle, but I would LOVE to have that storage space again.

    The other downside – my office mate has a LOT of foot traffic, and there are so many people in here sometimes it makes it difficult for me to concentrate. She’s also on the phone a lot, and I’ve joked I almost know more about her job than I do my own.

  42. Just a Reader*

    Mine is tough. It’s a cube in a huge open plan area ringed by offices and near a main corridor. It’s big enough that I can’t see a window, the florescent lights are killing my soul and the way the cords are situated means that my computer is in a corner and I have no real workspace without turning one way or the other.

    Zero privacy, even with a screen–people can still see what I’m doing from far away, but not up close.

    LOUD LOUD LOUD. I take tons of calls and ALL OF THE YAPPING every day makes it really hard to concentrate on calls, which is especially tough if I’m presenting, or two write.

    I had a huge window office at my last job and being back in a cube farm blows far more than I thought it would.

  43. Stephanie*

    Diane Rehm had a show about this a month ago:

    Most interesting takeaway for me was the concept of a “public library” model for office space. Different workspaces are available for how much you need to concentrate (conference rooms vs. cubicles vs. open tables). I had a internship where the office had “focus rooms” that could seat one or two people. I thought they were kind of goofy initially, but found they were great when I really needed to concentrate.

    1. JC*

      This could be a good idea in theory. But I am bothered by the implication with this setup that focus is something you only need a small percent of the time. Wouldn’t many/most people be far more productive at desk-type jobs if they could focus most of the time? I feel like if my employer had this kind of setup they’d be saying “it’s okay for you to not be your most productive most of the time.”

      Of course, this is better than only having cubicles and no “focus rooms.” Maybe employers with cubicles/open offices are saying “it’s okay for you to not be your most productive all of the time.”

      1. Jennifer*

        I second this, I think most people DO need more private space than a few hours once in awhile.

      2. Windchime*

        YES. We have a “Quiet room” where people go when they need to focus. I need to focus every day.

        Last summer, there was a project that came up suddenly and needed to be done in a few short weeks. My co-worker and I were tapped to do the programming. Because it was so high-profile, they reserved a conference room for us for all 3 weeks and put computers in there. Because we needed to be able to focus. Ummm……shouldn’t we have the kind of workspaces already where we can focus? Why is it only important under certain circumstances, and it’s OK to be barely productive the rest of the time?

    2. thenoiseinspace*

      See, I’m the opposite. I concentrate much better and am more productive in an open office. I guess it’s a sort of peer-pressure thing – I feel like people are watching me, so I work that much harder.

      1. JC*

        It’s interesting to hear you say that. I think I assume that everyone is an introvert like me! Guess there has to be someone out there who thrives in an open environment if companies are going to keep turning to them.

        1. thenoiseinspace*

          I’m actually quite introverted myself. I think the more important distinction to make here is that I’m highly competitive, and when I have “an audience” of sorts, I will produce more

  44. J*

    I work in an open office with cubicles, and the worst is having to hear peoples’ private calls/having to go to the bathroom to make or take your own (the other option would be to go down six floors and stand outside). In fact, someone in my office has been receiving harassing phone calls all day, based on what I hear of her side of it. :(

    1. Jennifer*

      I have to leave the building entirely because I don’t get cell phone reception in my office.

  45. Jamie*

    The one thing I think is important when thinking about productivity is more culture than environment – but it’s methods of communication.

    I know there are many people who feel they work better and more productively being in an situation where there are constant discussions and just asking Bob a question rather than sending an email. They work best, I’m told, in a fluid and verbal based culture.

    Many of us cannot work well that way. Sure we talk and have face to face conversations both informal and in meetings – but some of us cannot work productively with constant interruptions regarding non-urgent matters, people sticking their head in every few minutes because something popped into their head, picked up the phone, etc. I don’t care if you’re in the cube next to me – email is the most efficient way to ask me for something, unless that something is ‘please pass the fire extinguisher as I’ve ignited my desk.”

    I’m a not a big fan of endless meetings where the details are being hashed out verbally when much can be done over email and then regroup in person to discuss things.

    I guess I don’t understand how anyone can work effectively if they are always happy and able to drop what they’re doing to listen to whatever thought just popped into a co-workers head. If I could cheerfully lay aside the month end close in which I was deeply engrossed, to listen to the person who dropped by to talk about a report they may or may not want developed in the future I would be someone else. I don’t know how people like that exist.

    In some jobs interruptions are the job – totally get that – but for a lot of positions I don’t see how the preference for verbal and impromptu discussions isn’t really disrespectful of others’ time.

    And even when they are the job, there should still be a system of managing them while respecting the work currently being done.

    This isn’t about socializing at work as much as work styles – and that’s a huge aspect of culture that affects productivity – maybe for people like more than others, but I’d wager is an issue for a lot of people.

    1. Chrissi*

      THIS! This is the problem I have. Except I HATE writing emails (unless they’re short) and would rather just talk things out most of the time, so I’m just screwed either way apparently. We have cubicles (w/ the 6 foot walls) and it is nice to have some privacy. But the main part of our job includes calling clients and all of us pretty much raise our voices at least a little bit when on the phone w/ them. The problem being that I can’t really concentrate on quiet tasks when others are on calls, but I also can’t call at the same time as too many other people because I can’t hear who I’m talking to. We also have a tendency to collaborate on sticky procedural subjects (of which we have a lot), and so the constant interruptions are there when they don’t necessarily need to be. I wish we could have “office hours” a couple of times a day when it was ok to go ask coworkers questions, rather than just always having to be available. There are no questions in our job that can’t wait a couple of hours. There’s no real way for me to indicate that I’m unavailable in my cube – people just pop in or talk through the cube wall. Our management is convinced that if we got an internal messaging system that it would cut down on productivity, but I think it would make it go up because you can say when you are unavailable and it would be ideal for quick questions. Sigh.

      1. Jamie*

        This is the problem I have. Except I HATE writing emails (unless they’re short) and would rather just talk things out most of the time, so I’m just screwed either way apparently.

        You’re not screwed. Here:

        “Hey Griffin – when you have a second to talk I’d like to run some ideas I had about teapot inventory past you. Let me know, thanks.”

        Done. Short email and you didn’t break his concentration by demanding he stop what’s he’s doing RIGHT NOW.

        It’s not about eliminating conversation – just minimizing the drive-by interruptions.

      2. anon*

        I find that a lot of people who prefer to talk things over in person or in meetings (rather than sending an email) often don’t really know what they want. They don’t know how to explain themselves. They can’t organize their thoughts and make a clear decision, so they want to take up more of your time so they can dump a confusing pile of feedback on you, and then you’ll be responsible for figuring out what the heck they are asking of you. I find it so annoying. It’s like, great, now I’ve spent my time listening to you, and I still don’t know what you are asking of me. Why don’t you figure out what you want first and then clearly verbalize it?

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          I look at it a little more charitably (even though it still irritates the heck out of me): I think people like that can’t process their thoughts unless they hear them coming out of their mouths. Until they talk it over with someone, they don’t really know *what* they’re thinking. So they can’t figure it out and then verbalize it. . . they verbalize it so that they can figure it out. (Still annoying to those of us who don’t operate that way, but there it is).

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      “I don’t care if you’re in the cube next to me – email is the most efficient way to ask me for something, unless that something is ‘please pass the fire extinguisher as I’ve ignited my desk.’”


        1. Jamie*

          OMG that’s exactly what I was thinking when I typed it – him typing up the email to the fire department requesting assistance because he’d set the lie detector on fire.

          And Roy putting a monitor frame in front so Douglas thought it was a screen saver. Just brilliant.

          There were going to make an American version a few years back with Richard Ayoade keeping his role as Moss (and Joel McHale as Roy) but it never got picked up. This is one of those shows that if they are going to do it they need to do it correctly.

          The scene where Roy shows the stain where the woman rested her coffee cup on his back as he was bent over fixing her computer makes me weep with laughter every single time.

          1. Kelly O*

            I love this show so much. We were watching this episode on Netflix over the weekend.

            Did you know… John Oliver, Richard Ayoade, and David Mitchell were in the Cambridge Footlights together? Three of my favorites.

    3. Jennifer*

      “I guess I don’t understand how anyone can work effectively if they are always happy and able to drop what they’re doing to listen to whatever thought just popped into a co-workers head.”

      Well, they tell me that’s specifically THE JOB and I have to be happy to have anyone drop by every 5 minutes with questions and problems that have to be solved immediately.

    4. Cassie*

      Definitely – I get interrupted a lot and it’s a pain. For my boss, fine, he’s paying me and needs my help so he can interrupt me. For coworkers, that are asking the same exact question for the billionth time – it gets tiring. I have to figure out where I left off, and if there are multiple interruptions in a row, I may very well never get back to the task at hand.

      And then there are the visitors or vendors who are looking for my cubicle neighbor – no, I probably don’t know where he is and no, I probably don’t know when he’ll be back.

    5. zoe*

      Yes! Exactly!
      I have a coworker who sits in the cubicle directly across from me. Due to our job functions, she has to email me several times a day, which is fine.
      What isn’t fine is that before nearly every email she sends, she pops into my cube to tell me she’s about to send one. Then she sends the email…and pops back in (sometimes with a print out of the message), and expects me to stop whatever I’m working to check my mail, while she stands over me explaining everything she wrote in the email as I read along.
      This happens several times a day. These aren’t urgent issues, just day to day routine things. I swear, if I could have a door on my cube, I’d keep it locked.

      1. Jessica*

        This reminds me of a story a coworker once told me. When the company I’m at first got email (long, long ago), one of the employees had difficulty adjusting to email (versus phone), so she’d email someone something to someone and run down the hall to their office. Then she’d stand there and say, “Well?” The coworker would say, “Well what?” And she’d explain that she just sent an email, and she’d like a response. Of course, the email wasn’t there yet, so her complaints were always that phones were much better than email, because she could always get an immediate response. The response from her bosses was always that if there were anything she needed an immediate response for, she could still call. But most things only required a response at some point, nothing urgent, which was what email was for. She didn’t understand the concept of being able to get to something when you have time or aren’t working on something else. People stopped answering her phone calls, because she’d call about something that wasn’t urgent and refused to use email after the first few weeks (“I can walk down to the office before the email even gets there! It’s inefficient!”). She then started calling, hanging up on voicemail, calling back, hanging up on voicemail, calling back…etc. until her boss told her to quit doing that and use email like everyone else. (But they never broke her of the send email/run down to the person’s office habit, unfortunately. I’m glad I never worked there while she did.)

  46. Ali*

    I work at home, so I don’t necessarily have to worry about this. But I’m starting to get annoyed with having what feels like no balance, as people even check their e-mails and respond to them during their off time. I have cut off e-mail checking after 9 p.m. at night, as it’s 6 p.m. Pacific where my boss is located, so I figure nothing urgent is coming in after that. It has helped me feel a little more relaxed, but I am job searching so I can start working away from home either.

    My company has an office about 2.5 hours from me, and though I can commute by bus there, I don’t think I would enjoy that any better, as they have an open plan space. I’m an introvert, and even though my coworkers are friendly…no fun. I’d want to work in a conference room or some other solitary space.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I’m allowed to work from home if the weather is bad, etc. The only day I absolutely would have to be in the office is the day I cover for the receptionist’s lunch hour. But I find that when I stay home for more than three days in a row, I get cabin fever. Probably from being stuck in there for a whole year while I was unemployed!

      1. MaryMary*

        I live alone, and when I was unemployed I made it a point to leave the house once a day. Even if it was just to go for a walk. Otherwise I could have gone for days sometimes without seeing or talking to another human being.

  47. Stephanie*

    Also, at a previous job, my cubicle was five feet from the bathroom and the staircase. Apparently, this was where the new people got stuck. It smelled sometimes. What was more distracting was the constant traffic and feeling that someone was always looking over my shoulder. I also picked up on people’s bathroom schedules and could also tell when someone came to our floor bathroom from another floor (too much coffee, I suppose). It would have been a struggle if that job banned headphones.

    1. Yup*

      Yes, I sit 10 feet from the bathrooms — the smell is not okay, and I’ve unwillingly learned stuff about the habits of several people that I wish could un-know.

    2. Mouse*

      I used to sit right by the (unisex) bathroom too. Horrible. The smells, being able to tell what they were doing in there, knowing who washes their hands and who doesn’t. I just don’t want to be aware of what the people I work with are doing in the bathroom.

  48. Fiona*

    Before I changed roles, one of my primary responsibilities was supporting our CEO. My office was across the hall and juuuust far enough down that I couldn’t see whether his office door was open or closed without getting up and poking my head into the hall. Considering how often my job relied on almost literally jumping in front of him for a signature or whatever, it would have been immensely helpful to be able to see whether he was available or not without having to physically leave my desk. Early on, it often happened that I’d get up and check and the door would be open, I’d step back into my office to grab a paper or whatnot off my desk, and in that split second the door would go from open to closed. Ugh! I quickly learned to have my documents in hand before bothering to check. ;)

    Other than that, I really liked my office – it was maybe 10×10 and had a nice U workspace that ran around three of the walls, so lots of room to have different projects going on but still have everything nearly within arms’ reach. When I changed roles I also changed offices, and my new space is much less efficient – instead of a U I have a long straight counter (I think the space was originally designed to be shared), of which I can only easily reach half without having to get up, so my functional surface area basically got cut in half. I need to get a plant or something for the other end desk/counter, it’s kind of sad and bare over there.

  49. Amanda*

    I actually love my current office – it’s a proper office, though the pocket door is broken and doesn’t close.

    What’s more difficult is a much larger problem to do with layout. Our organization occupies two buildings that are about 20 minutes away from each other in different cities. I work in one building with 1 FT and 2 PT staff, and am expected to share responsibility for the public space in that building. Everyone else in the organization – all support staff, all managers, everyone – is in the other building. Our space is by far the busier and more trafficked, and it’s like pulling teeth to get anyone else in the organization to come here even for things that are part of their jobs. There are unrealistic expectations about the work we do, misunderstandings about how we arrange coverage (required to have two people in the space at all times, which means we have to plan time off more carefully than a state dinner), and ultimately cultural differences even in a tiny organization. It’s out of sight, out of mind, and it can get really frustrating sometimes. Once a week, I work out of the other office but I have to spend a good 20 minutes packing a bag with files, materials, etc. to make sure I have everything for the meetings I need to take. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes it’s really nice to be so independent, and I love my job! But we often feel like we’re on the short end of the stick, especially when it comes to taking time off.

  50. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I work from home now, and there are lots of ways that I could improve my work space and increase productivity (mostly by investing in things that offices have as standard: a better printer, more storage, etc.). But that’s not really what this thread is about.

    Back when I worked in an office, here were some ways my space affected my productivity:

    1) In my first office, I had the first cube by the front door. My cube door faced the front door, and very often visitors would come to me instead of going to the reception deck (which was equally visible; some folks just went left instead of right and ended up at me). This meant that I was interrupted a few times each day. Not a huge deal, but imperfect.

    2) The first office I had after I became a manager didn’t have any walls. We were a small organization that borrowed space from one of our funders and were crammed into an unused corner. My office was situated such that I didn’t have sightlines to anyone (a good thing), but I didn’t have any sound barriers. This meant that I had to book a conference room – which we didn’t have very good access to, and which were far from our office space – whenever I wanted to have a private conversation with someone I managed. It also meant that staff would often just yell out to communicate with me (or each other).

    3) In fact, I’ve never had good sound barriers – even when I’ve had an office with a door. So much so that I usually took calls in conference rooms, etc. Any time I needed to make even a minorly sensitive call (e.g., hey, partner organization, remember that thing you said you’d do? I really need you to do it, and I need to tell you that in serious tones) it felt uncomfortable to do so in front of everyone else.

  51. Anon Accountant*

    I’m fortunate to have an office with a door. My productivity is so much greater now that I can close the door and focus. Before I faced a wall and it was an open space area. Clients and other visitors would wander to our work areas and we’d be working on tax returns and other confidential data. You would have to hurry up and toss your papers in a desk drawer to answer their question.

    The old setup was terrible especially in terms of unnecessary interruptions when you were facing a tight deadline.

  52. Anonymous*

    I see everyone complaining about cubicles, but I would LOVE to have a cubicle. I work in research in a lab, and it’s just benches and mostly open concept (benches = cabinets, drawers, shelves and a places to sit, in rows, usually 2-3 people per row 2-3 rows per room, at about kitchen countertop height). As an introvert I’ve learned to deal with basically seeing/hearing my coworkers all day, but the noise from all the equipment running is the one of the most irritating thing about a lab. With 2 freezers, a large fridge, and multiple centrifuges running it’s LOUD, and wearing headphones is not a good idea in case of an accident.

  53. cat*

    I actually have a question for Alison about this. Can an applicant ask about seating during a phone interview? For me, at this point, I would turn down any job with an open office – as an introvert, it just makes me miserable, and if I’m going to spend most of my waking hours somewhere, I don’t want to be miserable. Does it make sense to ask about this during the phone screen, or will employers interpret this as a petty concern and be turned off?

    1. Jamie*

      I’m not Alison, obviously, but I can’t help myself I have to comment.

      I am 100% with you that this is a huge deal and I think it should be no big deal to ask about in the phone screen. That said, even me…who finds this a wildly important issue…would be concerned about it being asked too soon as it could be a red flag for high maintenance or asking about specifics before you have even decided if it’s a fit on both sides enough to go to a in person interview.

      Nothing wrong with asking about seeing the space in an in person interview…and you may not need to ask if it’s part of the tour.

      I really wouldn’t ask in a phone interview, though. Just like for me a decent parking space off street is a requirement…but although I would be curious I wouldn’t broach that kind of thing before I knew if I even wanted the job, or if they were interested in me.

    2. LizNYC*

      I’m (obviously) not Alison, but I want to warn you that many companies are doing open seating now — even my Old Job (a publisher), which attracted introverts exclusively for 85% of the positions available. It was torture for some things — but at the same time, most everyone put on headphones and acted like we still had high cube walls.

      1. cat*

        Oh, I know – my current company does open seating and it’s my worst nightmare. I love the natural light but I hate everything else about it (I’m under contract for the rest of the year, though, so I can’t go anywhere right now). It’s a dealbreaker for me, plain and simple – I’d actually take a significant pay cut in exchange for my own office, or even a cube with tall walls like I had 10 years ago. That’s why I was wondering when it’s appropriate to ask.

        1. Anonna Miss*

          I wouldn’t ask it in a phone screen, unless it somehow comes up, but in an in-person interview, where there are some offices and some cubicles or open-space, I would ask. Actually, I did. I phrased it as “I know this sounds petty, but would I be in an office or cubicle?” It wasn’t a make or break question, but I wanted to know.

    3. JC*

      If it’s a dealbreaker for you then yes, it is appropriate to ask. If their answer is no then you know not to continue with them. And if their answer is yes, I bet they are happy that they can use their office space as a selling point to new hires. If they didn’t believe that they would have already converted to an open office.

      We have private offices at my current employer, and sometimes we put “you will have your own office with a window” right in the job ad.

    4. James M*

      Deal-breakers come in all shapes and sizes, so I would hold off on inspecting the work environment until after an in-person interview goes well.

    5. MaryMary*

      Keep in mind, though, that if you’re interviewing at a large company, the person doing the phone screen may not know what the office setup is. When I worked for a Fortune 500 company, our recruiters did the phone screen. For a while, our recruiters weren’t even employees, they were contractors and temps. They had never been to most of our offices and had no idea what our work stations looked like.

  54. thenoiseinspace*

    My three previous positions (including internships) were all open-floorplan, and I miss it so much! I’m in an office now, and I hate it. I get much less work done, plus the ultra-thin walls give off the illusion of privacy without actually offering any: anything you say can be heard from the other offices, and my coworkers’ constant and very loud music can be heard on the other end of the floor. At least in the open floorplan places, people would automatically use headphones, but here, they assume they don’t need to. People also feel like they can make confidential calls in their offices (which, by all rights, they should be allowed to do) without realizing that everyone in the office can hear what they’re saying. They’re also less of a community feel.

    1. Jen in RO*

      I also miss a lot of things about my former open space office… pretty much everything except my annoying coworker! At my current job I have an office I shared with another person, a very nice guy. Wednesday was his last day and I feel so alone now :(

    2. tcookson*

      I’m glad that I started my first office job in a semi-open office. There were three of us plus our departmental manager in an office. It was so helpful for me in learning the job to overhear how the more experienced people handled every situation with clients. I could hear their half of the conversation, and then we would all talk about what was going on with each client after we hung up with them. I think the learning curve would have been much steeper if I hadn’t been able to observe and participate in that way.

  55. Andrea*

    I need quiet to think and analyze the work I do (management analysis). This has been hampered by:

    1. Sitting next to someone who blasted the Jackson 5 Christmas album from November to January.
    2. Sitting 20 feet away from the HR director’s office who would have her staff in there each day and yell at them. Really, all yelling, all day.
    3. Sitting outside the press guy’s office who had the local TV station on all day.
    4. Someone’s ring tone at my current office when she gets messages.

  56. AdAgencyChick*

    A couple of years ago, my company switched from traditional offices (for anyone middle management and higher, with cubes for others) to a more open plan. Now only C-level execs have their own offices, though thankfully it’s not a completely open space.

    The planners of the new space failed to consider the vastly increased need for conference room space once you take almost everyone’s offices away. Quick client calls that used to happen in someone’s office now require booking of a room, which means that pretty much every conference room is booked solid, all the time. For those execs who are jumping on the open-office train, please think about the fact that employees need places to meet and be on conference calls without annoying the rest of the office!

    1. Lore*

      Yes yes yes! Our original floorplan had two phone rooms and two small conference rooms per floor (for 100+ people in cubes). That was just barely adequate. But then, of course, they hired some people and there was no room in the floorplan for that, so both phone rooms have become offices, and even one of the small conference rooms gets commandeered for temporary offices when we need to bring in someone from outside for a project’s duration. So if you need that space, you need to book it through the building-wide conference booking system, and most likely you’ll end up in a full-size conference room five floors away…which is silly if what I need is twenty minutes to make a call.

      1. Ali*

        My company has a room booking system too, and my manager’s poor planning has led to him being kicked out of rooms when he’s trying to talk to me, but has failed to book the office ahead of time. On one video call, someone knocked on the door to boot him and I had to watch him get up, walk down the hall and look for an empty room. At least he admitted that was his own fault that he was in that position. Awkward!

    2. MaryMary*

      And that managers need some place to have confidential conversations. I can’t talk about compensation, performance, employee personal issues, etc in an open plan. My current job is mostly cubicles and only two conference rooms, so anytime you want to have a confidential conversation you need to pull someone into a room. It also makes it super obvious when there is something going on, and rounds of managers run in and out of a conference room.

      Also, if you have an office don’t call someone who works in a cubicle to have a confidential conversation. I can’t tell you who the poor performers in the department are when they sit next to me.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        THAT TOO. Oh my god, I hate it. It means that if I want to give someone feedback, I either have to do it in public or else probably scare the employee by making it A Meeting With a Room Booked. Makes it much harder to be a good manager. :(

  57. Andrea*

    Also, most offices are too cold. One job we were above the loading dock and it felt like 40 degrees in the office. I also break out in hives when I am cold, so little heat in the winter and too much AC in the summer make it hard to work. I now choose work locations by how quiet, how warm (nowhere near windows) and how light the space is.

  58. Famouscait*

    In my last office, I would actually say that too much silence negatively impacted productivity. It was so very library-quiet, it felt as though picking up the phone to make a call would disturb the peace.

  59. Karen*

    We recently moved from a more office-oriented work space to an open floor with cubicle workspace. Only VP and above got offices, they have glass door and are all interior, so the cubes get the light.

    The key for us has been “focus rooms” that are scattered throughout the floors. They are small, un-reservable rooms for 2 – 4 people that you can pop into for phone calls, meetings, etc. While I wish they had computers in them, they do have phones and there are a decent amount of them (12 or so for a floor of 120) and we use them a lot.

    Our cubes have relatively high “walls” (they’re shelves and cubbies) and tons of storage which is super helpful.

    1. Fiona*

      RE: focus rooms…I imagine if you had computers in them, you’d need a crowbar to pry people out of them or have problems with people camping out in them instead of using their regular space.

  60. Robin*

    I have a note for those taking lots of personal items to work– be prepared to pay more for homeowner’s to insure them or face a possible loss. My workplace suffered a major flood this year and I learned the artwork, executive chairs and other items I had there were completely destroyed, and because I didn’t have a special rider on my policy, I could only receive $1000. for the claim.

  61. businesslady*

    I mostly work from home now, but I still spend about 25% of the time in an office. the things that bothered me before–mainly just chit-chat in the communal area, which requires either Getting Up & Shutting My Door or aggressively tuning it out–bother me SO MUCH MORE now that I’ve gotten used to a relatively silent workspace.

    a few years ago I was doing a lot of writing from a cube environment with a lot of cross-chatter, & it would rarely bother me. but apparently I’ve gotten spoiled by my noise-free desk at home.

  62. Sharon*

    Here are some good and bad things I’ve seen at places I’ve worked:

    1. Doing a cubicle floor plan, purchasing and installing it all with the assumption that staffing won’t change in a year or two. This was highlighted by the company that did this with these assumptions: managers got 24 cubic feet, W2 employees got 16 cubic feet and temps/contractors got 8 cubic feet. (I’m making up those numbers.) Of course a year later, groups got moved around and there weren’t enough employee cubes for people, so some were stuck in the tiny contractor cubes.

    2. Doing the above and setting all the cubes up the same way (for fairness, I guess) but ignoring the fact that some places are not ideal. For example, cubes that open up to the end of a high-traffic hallway, or next to the bathrooms. I find it ironic how status-conscious executives are but they pretend that their “underlings” don’t notice they’re in a sucky workspace. (Meaning, those would not be acceptable to the exec, but somehow they are for the workers.)

    3. When laying out seating plans, ignoring people’s functions. It’s nice for teams who actually do work together to be near each other, but horrible to be shoved next to someone with different work habits or requirements. It’s also just silly when execs mix people all together regardless of teams, putting people together who don’t even work together, like one company I worked for did.

    4. This one is pie in the sky, but I long for the day they have cube walls on wheels so that they can be easily moved around and reconfigured. Right now once the darn things are installed, it’s nearly impossible to convince people to move them, even with legitimate problems like being installed in the wrong place!

    Things I love:

    a. the new trend to have a little closet/locker in the cube. It’s super nice to have a place to hang up my winter coat, and also to keep an additional sweater or cardigan.

    b. 6 foot cube walls, but the top two or three feet should be that translucent material that lets light through. That way everybody has privacy AND light.

    c. telephone headsets are just a must for me, unless you never, ever talk on the phone. I’ve had bosses before who felt that headsets were only for admins, and refused to get them for customer service and other client facing people. Hello? Don’t be a jerk, and get your people the tools they need to do their jobs!

    1. Lore*

      I like the locker, but would trade it for shelving in a heartbeat… And yes, headsets. We were told we could buy our own when we moved.

    2. Sharon*

      I forgot to add one of my biggest peeves: harsh, glary lighting. There’s really no excuse, other than trying to be as cheap as possible I guess, for not having decent lighting. I saw it done right at one former employer: The fluorescent fixtures were hung about 1 foot below the ceiling and they directed the light UP. So the light bounced off bright white ceiling tiles and made for a very bright but with NO glare workspace and the indirect light was sooo easy on the eyes. I mourn that more companies haven’t discovered them.

  63. Pockets*

    I work in cube land, but my cube is right next to two senior executives’ offices. It’s a very distracting environment. I don’t report to either of them, but I feel like I’m being watched (even though I’m pretty sure they couldn’t care less about what I do). These higher-ups constantly have meetings in their offices, so there is always traffic by my cubicle. The execs share an admin, who sits directly behind me, and she is either on the phone or running around for them. She also plays crappy music loud enough so I can hear it.

    Our cubicles are poorly designed. The walls are high, but there is no noise blocking, so I can hear the conversations of EVERYONE who sits near me. Some of these people don’t have an “indoor voice” either. The outlets are spaced really far apart, and I have wires all over, which looks messy and is a bad utilization of space. In addition, my chair is uncomfortable and difficult to adjust, and it is really cold in here at times.

    I used to work from home, and it was awesome! Unfortunately, I don’t have that option in my current role :(

    1. Pockets*

      Oh, I almost forgot….if the admin is ever out, people will come to me with questions/deliveries for the execs. I don’t have a problem with taking a delivery, but I really can’t help with much else. I don’t have access to the execs’ calendars and don’t know their schedules. I also don’t know much about their organizations, since I work in a completely separate group. I think people get annoyed that I can’t help them, but it’s not my fault…I was just assigned to this space.

  64. littlemoose*

    At my job, all Teapot Analysts are supposed to have their own offices. When I started at another branch, they told me in the interview that they had outgrown their space, an that the new location was currently being renovated. They let me know that, in the meantime, I’d have a desk in a room with three oter analysts, but that I would have an office once we moved to the new location. I really appreciated being told this upfront, although I had been underemployed for 18 months and would have worked in the bathroom if they wanted. Anyway, it was definitely hard to focus sometimes in the shared space – anytime somebody needed any one of us, all four were interrupted. It was nice in that it was easy to get input or bounce ideas off one another, but yes, productivity was negatively impacted.

    I was actually transferred to a different branch before the planned move happened. At the new branch, I had my own office. It was funny in that they apologized, saying it wasn’t a great office, but it had a door! And was all mine! I noticed a definite jump in my productivity with the office. I am the type who needs quiet to concentrate, so that’s not a big surprise. Still, it really showed me the value of a quiet work space.

  65. Laura2*

    My problem is a bit different than most of the ones here. I love having an office with a door (I previously worked in a cube and that was fine too) and I like working in a quiet workplace, but this office is TOO quiet. There’s no one here – 4 of us on a busy day. There’s a row of empty offices and a group of empty cubes because most of the other people work offsite/were laid off. The office is also on the outskirts of the city, so combined with the emptiness it feels very isolated and demotivating.

    1. Stephanie*

      OMG, my last office was library quiet. I hated it. It was quiet enough to where a coworker would complain about my typing being too loud.

      It’s not that I wanted the exact opposite. It was just that it was so quiet in there that it made it awkward to make any noise. I’d be worried phone calls were distracting or that my music was turned too loudly. I had to listen to music or podcasts just to break up the tedium of the work.

  66. JD*

    We have a progressive office environment in which most people have cubes, very few have offices, and many people don’t even have assigned workspaces at all but rather must “hotel” into spaces when they need to (otherwise they are out on assignment or working from some remote location, or from home). The downside of it is that you never know who your neighbors will be from day to day, since many of them are hotelers and will change daily. Another downside is if you have an assigned space but are off, traveling or working from home, your space is up for grabs by hotelers — so you might come back and your supplies are missing or the desk chair is the wrong height or there’s a mess. Just came in today from three days working remotely and my PostIt notes were gone. But the plus side is that you get to meet a lot of new people, and in certain times there are no people around you if no one has “hoteled” into those spaces.

      1. JD*

        Some people who have assigned spaces have resorted to posting little signs that say things like “No mess, don’t steal my pens” etc. It’s pretty funny.

  67. Natalie*

    Right this second, I can hear one conversation among 3 co-workers and a visitor and 2 different phone calls. I hate it. Typically I have headphones on all day long (I’m the only person on my team that doesn’t interact with others extensively) but then I’m not getting any of the benefit of an open plan.

  68. Mariette*

    All the offices in our department seat 3 people- so everyone shares an office with 2 other people. It’s great if you get along with your officemates- mine are great. Just the right balance of schmoozing and quietly working.
    Last year our carpets were replaced, so we all had to spend 2 weeks in one big room on another floor. No cubes- just a lot of tables. It was HORRIBLE! I couldn’t concentrate with all the chit chat going on. Every little thing distracted me. Some people loved it, but most of us were so happy to get back to our offices.

  69. Dianne*

    I’ve had an office for about 5 years, it is awesome except in July and August – there are no vents and it gets very hot. During the summer I keep extra deodorant in my desk, ice cream in the office freezer, and sometimes sit in the conference room or in one of the empty cubes. It’s cold in the winter but I really like sweaters and I have a space heater so who cares.

    In my previous job I shared an office that was also the library staff lunch/break room – we were separated from the kitchen by a bookshelf, but that doesn’t block much. I hate eating noises and my office mate ate doritos all day long. It was awful, and contributed in a major way to me leaving that job after a year.

  70. books*

    I’m an introvert and open plan kills me. We have “desks” (tables with a rolling file drawer) and “walls” (clearish dividers) and I found the space loud and distracting! I used to work in an office where everyone had their own or a shared office, so you could close the door, adjust your lighting, etc and it was great. Also makes a difference when I’m on the phone a lot – when I can put it on speaker and stand up is much better than when I have to use a headset and stay glued to the desk!

    1. books*

      (Open plan kills me because it’s loud and distracting and I want a place to shut the door and be quiet and get work done.)

  71. KateMonster*

    I have my own office, but the expectation is that everyone on our floor works with their doors open 90% of the time. It’s considered rude or standoffish to work with your door closed. It’s a nice balance between feeling isolated and having privacy when you need it. And when I need to really hunker down to meet a deadline, I can close my door to limit distractions.

  72. Simonthegrey*

    I’m in academia, not an office job per se. I have two work stations, one for my teaching/office hours which is just a huge room with about 15 computers in it, for adjuncts to use as needed. No privacy there for meeting students. For my tutoring position, I share a desk space with a low divider wall with another tutor. There are windows, but they look out on an interior wall. The room I’m in is good sized, and if a student is discussing a personal paper or we are trying to talk about problems they are having, everything carries. It’s a little annoying, but it’s really only bad when the other tutor clips his nails because that sound drives me nuts.

  73. Catbertismyhero*

    We moved to a mostly open space office about eight years ago. We really had no other choice to be able to fit the number of staff into the space we had. Based on input from staff, we did some things that have helped with the issues. Work stations are set up in pods of 4, with 72 inch high walls in between pods. The walls between the work stations are 54 inches high, so that you do not easily see people walking by in front of the pods, or see your co-worker next to you, when you are seated. There is sound-absorbing material in each work station and on the outside of the pods. Seats are positioned so that it is difficult for a visitor to come up from behind. Each work station also has a 72 inch tall coat closet that locks. We provide headsets for the phones, and encourage use of earbuds or other headphones for music if it helps staff concentrate.
    We have splashes of color, and encourage personalization of the work space. We also put as many of the enclosed offices and conferences rooms as we could on the inside of the space so that the work stations could enjoy the window line. Overall, it has worked pretty well, though some think it is too quiet. Also, we discovered that the 4 person pod works really well for a 4 person team, but not so well for the 5th or 6th person who has to sit elsewhere. We would also have added more conference rooms; we are trying to figure out how to do that now.

    1. Judy*

      I guess I’d not say that’s an open office, that’s a cubicle farm. We’re moving from something like that (50-72 inch cubicle walls, with 4 space inside each) to an open plan. No walls higher than 36 inches , 100+ people in a room. Everyone can see everyone. From the “model” setup, it really looks like when you’re working, you can see the people working opposite you around your & their monitors. The plans show 4 “huddle rooms” that hold up to 4 people that can’t be reserved, 1 “huddle room” that holds up to 10 people that can’t be reserved and 1 conference room that holds up to 20 people that can be reserved. All for I think 112 people (8 deep by 14 wide) from at least 4 departments, some completely unrelated.

  74. Jen in RO*

    In my previous job, we had a big open space office with rows upon rows of desks (no walls). It actually *was* great for collaboration in my team – we could quickly get an opinion or ask a question, and it was easy to be in the loop with everything the team did.

    On the downside, it was *too* easy to ask questions! One particularly inconsiderate coworker once interrupted me 20+ times in 8 hours… I counted. I’m also pretty sure our constant chatter (about work and non-work topics) annoyed coworkers from other departments. Before I left, the headcount had gone up, so meeting rooms were really, really hard to find. My friends who still work there tell me it only got worse, but they are moving in a bigger space in a month, at least.

    1. Jen in RO*

      Also, not open-space-specific, but annoying: bathroom stalls with thin walls that don’t even go all the way up to the ceiling. I do not like other people to hear everything I do in the bathroom…

      1. Jamie*

        I don’t think I’ve ever been in a bathroom with stalls where the walls went all the way up. Interesting, the differences.

        And yes, a private bathroom is a huge plus to the work experience.

        1. Jen in RO*

          My current job has proper walls for the stalls. Made out of something that’s *not* drywall or plastic! I never thought a bathroom could make me happy…

          1. Jamie*

            Oh – ours are metal – still about foot or two off the ground and only about 6 feet high so not a lot of privacy.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          One of the nicer department stores in my city has full walls between the bathroom “stalls.” So each “stall” is actually it’s own little room with wallpapered walls and real doors. It’s a wonderful thing.

          Contrast that with the bathrooms at my old job. Motion-detecting faucets that were barely functional. (Just imagine women waving their hands frantically and swearing in anger.) Stall “walls” that were at least a foot too short. And the worst part was that the sanitary napkin receptacles were installed on the wrong side of the stall: the toilet was positioned off-center in each stall, and the receptacles were all placed on the short side so that is was almost impossible to sit on the toilet without your thigh touching the receptacle. Ew.

          1. LCL*

            Or restroom stalls where the door opens inward only, and there is so little space in the stall that you have to brush up against the toilet to work the door. Yuck.

      2. hamster*

        Yes to this!
        One perk of my new job. It has the cleanest bathrooms ever. And with solid walls and doors . And they have those tissue paper toilet covers. And hand sanitizer dispensers ( no touch) everywhere, not just in the bathroom

  75. Smitty*

    At my current job, we have cubicles with mid-level walls (chest-height on me). They’re decent-sized work spaces, and I don’t think it’d be so bad for certain departments, but ALL departments have cubicles. Only a few Execs have offices along the outside of the building. The main problem is that I’m in HR, and even we have cubicles. I share a cubicle wall with an non-HR person. Our employee base is mostly drivers/field workers, so when an employee calls they can be rather loud (talking over engine noise and the like). I’ll turn my phone down as low as it will go and try to talk in low tones, but I’m sure that other people on the other end of the hall can hear me. We’ve repeatedly raised the issue of confidentially, but the powers-that-be are determined to have everyone in the open (besides themselves, of course).

    Additionally, my cubicle (and the rest of HR’s) is located directly across the walkway from an open kitchen and the hallway to the bathrooms. So not only do the non-HR people sitting beside HR hear confidential information, but so does everyone warming up their food/getting water/walking to the bathroom, etc. Plus I hear and smell everything that goes on all day. I had an office at my last job, so it was a long adjustment period to cubicles. At first I felt extremely ADHD – I’d be trying to write and email and end up tying what the group of people in the kitchen were saying instead. After 8 months I’m finally training myself to tune out everyone’s conversations (and no, headphones aren’t really an option). The best part? The building is brand-new – built specifically for our company. Except for the horrible design, I love my job so I deal with it but it’s definitely not ideal.

  76. Anon27*

    I work in a small office – often I am here alone because my co-workers are out of the office in meetings (The President, mostly). It’s certainly nice having privacy (I’m VERY introverted and like the quiet), but it still can be strange frequently having an 900 square foot office to yourself.

    When one of my other co-workers comes in (not the President), he likes to work with the lights off. Personally, I need some light, beyond a dim lamp, to be efficient. We’ve kind of worked out an unspoken system – If I’m here first, the co-worker and I work with the lights off and if I’m here first, we work with them on – Which seems like a fair compromise. The irritating aspect is that when they are off, I don’t feel as productive and I don’t have extra funds to buy a high lumens lamp to bring with me to the office.

    Other than that, no issues. It’s just something ‘to deal with’ and isn’t a huge issue, but it does affect productivity.

    1. Anon27*

      Whoops – I meant *If the co-worker is here first, the co-worker and I work with the lights off and if I’m here first, we work with them on – Which seems like a fair compromise.*

  77. Sharm*

    I had an office for about two years. I miss it deeply. I need lots of quiet, and I like to focus without distractions. I hope I get one again someday.

    Nobody really likes cubes, I guess, but my company has a culture of people just coming into your cube without any warning. Two jobs ago, that would NEVER happen. People would give you a ring and ask if you were free to stop by. It was so much more respectful of time. Because the cubes at my current job are so open, people just assume they can waltz into your space at any time. Countless meetings I’ve had at someone else’s cube are interrupted because the culture is to just talk to whoever shows up, regardless of whether or not you’re working on something else (or with someONE else!). It’s so rude.

  78. D*

    I work in the back office of a retail store as a manager/web developer/person who can use excel. Between the constant phone ringing and customer interruptions, it’s impossible to get anything done unless I come in early or stay late.

    I share an office with my boss (the owner), and our desks are arranged so he’s sitting basically RIGHT BEHIND ME and he’s frequently on the phone arguing with his ex-wife. The fact that he sits behind me squicks me out and makes me feel really self-conscious — I’m a hard worker and have nothing to hide, but it’s super weird.
    Other random things:
    -Half of the filing cabinets are in my office, and half are in another coworker’s office, so it takes longer to get documents I need.
    -All of our offices are incredibly messy; we just don’t have enough places to put things so they end up in massive piles on the floor or on chairs. Sometimes broken product or half-finished projects end up on my desk because no one knows where to put it. Messy = hard to focus, at least for me. Doesn’t seem to bother my boss however!

  79. Julie*

    I had to leave a job once because we just couldn’t figure out how to fix the ergonomics. I’m a very short person (5’0″) and office furniture just isn’t designed to fit people my size. The nature of this particular job required a lot of mouse use on the computer, and the desks were generally too high to do that without hurting my shoulder in the long run. HR was really sympathetic and we tried every reasonable fix: new chairs, taking the arms off the chairs, putting them back on, keyboard trays with and without mouse attachments, foot-rests for my feet… I probably went through a half-dozen setups in less than a year. In the end, though, I was in so much agony that I would cry in the bathrooms from the pain and simply had to acknowledge that there was no way I could work in the office. Because of the sensitive nature of the files I was working on, the higher-ups didn’t want me working at home where I have a good home-office setup arranged. So I had to leave and find other work. Sad but true.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      That is sad.

      My husband is very tall and often has the opposite problem. His employer bought him a special desk and chair, but he frequently gets back pain if he spends too much time meeting in the conference room. (He also cannot fit in coach seats on airplanes unless it’s an exit row.)

      1. hamster*

        i know a lot of 5’0 people. Maybe in europe being short at least for girls is more common? Or maybe the desks are lower? Very puzzing

  80. Anon*

    I’ve worked in a good variety of settings – from big, busy, open plan offices, through to having my own personal office. By far the most distracting is my current setup – a really quiet office that I share with one other person. In the busy, open plan offices all the potential distractions were just like a white noise. In my current office, the slightest thing (a phone on vibrate, email alerts, phone calls, coughing etc.) can become a huge distraction.

    It also doesn’t help being in on the ground floor at the bottom of the stairs – we’re the first port of call for gossiping coworkers, or anyone that has a question they want to speak to someone about.

    I’d happily take the noisy, open plan setting as my preference.

  81. LeighTX*

    I worked in a window office for eight years and loved it–it was relatively quiet, and I enjoyed so much having a door I could shut when I wanted to eat lunch, or if I had a migraine and needed extra quiet and darkness, or if I needed to make a “wardrobe adjustment.” It could get loud there, though; people were accustomed to popping in whenever they had a question or a stray thought and I got interrupted a lot. Also, my next-door neighbor had a ringtone that sounded like a man screaming, and I cannot understate how annoying that was.

    Last month I started a new job and while I still have a window office, ALL my walls are windows, including my door! The entire office is set up along the outside wall of our building, and all our doors, the walls to the hallway, and in between everyone’s personal offices are clear glass. I don’t mind it as much as I thought I would, mainly because everyone here is very very quiet and there are few interruptions. But unless I leave for lunch, I don’t really feel like I’ve had a lunch break; shutting my door is kind of pointless since I’m in a fishbowl and I feel weird playing Candy Crush or reading a book when everyone can see me.

    1. Jennifer*

      I had a half-cubicle (more like a rectangle) for a couple of years that had a huge window that made me feel like I was a fish everyone was staring at. I actually went so far as to tape a bunch of old calendar photos all over it (note: I am not of high status enough for this to be a problem). It really helped.

      1. LeighTX*

        Oh, that’s my other complaint about the glass–we’re not allowed to put anything on it, so my pretty new wall calendar is useless, and there’s nowhere to hang my coat!

        Another weird bit is that my office is right next to our conference room and when we have clients in I have to avoid snacking so they don’t have to watch me chow down. :)

      2. Jen in RO*

        I have an office with a big window. It’s informally called The Fish tank and coworkers knock on the window going ‘fishy fishy fishy’. I love them.

        1. hamster*

          I think this must be a trend. I heard this fishtank name a couple of times in 3 different companies

  82. Annoyed Cube Zombie*

    I manage people and sit in a cube. I have to reserve a conference room every time I need to meet with someone, especially for reviews or compensation discussions. I also have done trainings and have noise in the background because people will simply yell across the floor to someone else. I have had to ask people to repeat themselves on phone calls because I simply can’t hear them. The idea that cubicles with low walls where you can hear everything anyone else does might be under the guise of collaboration but really it is to save money. I hate it and have been embarrassed many times on the phone by conversations happening elsewhere that clients can hear while I am talking to them. But I’m told that my job doesn’t have the right HR code to get an office. Whenever I am on a call with management I am sure to leave my phone OFF mute so they can get a taste of just how distracting it is. Oh…and let’s not forget the other cube dwellers who just start talking or asking a question or the people who walk up behind you and just assume it is okay to start talking to you because you don’t have a door. How am I supposed to know you are talking to me when out of nowhere I just hear a question in the air? Of course that means I am constantly interrupted. It is affecting my health and sanity! Why do companies do this?!

      1. Tax Nerd*

        Ugghhh. I feel your pain. When I was an intern, managers and up had offices. Now that I’m a manager, it’s senior managers and up that get them, but when our lease gets renewed, I’m sure we will move to a situation where it’s only partners and up. It’s frustrating because clients call all the time, and they can hear the background noise. Not what they want to hear when their personal situation is being discussed, and a few have outright asked about the privacy situation, with some concern in their voice. Unfortunately, the people who make decisions only care about saving office rent by shaving floorspace, and don’t bother getting productivity drops quantified.

        I manage people now, and I often end up taking people to Starbucks for mini-meetings. Sometimes it’s good to make it less formal by going “off campus”, but other times, it does need to be a Serious Conversation, which can be hard to do in a coffee shop. Often, other coworkers will think it’s a general coffee run, so I’ll have to find some way to gently let them know that they need to go separately.

        I work best if there’s a general din of people working, and it’s like white noise. But when it’s just one or two people having conversations, it’s hard to tune out, as much as I’d like to do so. It’s especially hard when it’s someone in my group having the conversation. If it’s someone I supervise, there’s a part of me that wants to be sure that they’re handling client calls appropriately, etc., even if it’s a routine matter. If it’s someone above me that just has their door open, even though I try to tune out, there’s a part of my brain that pays attention. Are they talking to a client we work on together? Is this something I will need to know? Do they have a way of handling clients that I can learn from. I just feel like my brain shouldn’t be focusing on those things when really I’m supposed to be focusing on a tax return. It’s maddening. I miss sharing an office, like I did when space was tight. My office mate was pretty considerate, which made it easier. There was conversation some of the time, but we weren’t super tight, so mostly we just did our work. Once the space situation got resolved, I was back in cube land.

  83. Anon*

    Is anybody else bothered by phone noise at their work? We have cubicles in the middle with offices around the edge but most people in offices leave their doors open. I’m constantly annoyed with both the constant sound of ringing as well as being able to hear phone conversations. I think it has to do with only hearing one part of the conversation that’s especially annoying.

    I feel like I would work best in a coworking space environment where there were phone rooms and conference rooms for phone calls as well as extensive meetings/sales calls.

    1. Jamie*

      Phones are horrible, horrible inventions.

      I love my email, text, and internet communicator with it’s built in music library and all my cute pics…but if it never rang it would be just perfect.

      Desk phone? If I could I’d abolish the practice entirely.

      1. Windchime*

        My desk phone rings once or twice a month. The other day, I came into my cubicle and–what’s that red light?!? I had an actual voicemail! Turns out it was a hangup call. But it was kind of exciting for a minute there.

    2. Jennifer*

      They make me answer the general phone line several times a week from my cube and dear god, I can’t hear someone on the phone over everyone else also talking behind my back AND yakking on the other phones. I’ve said multiple times, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you, there are a lot of people talking right behind me right now.” Kind of gives the yackers behind me a hint to do that, though.

      Phones are the devil.

  84. annie*

    We are completely open office. Several things –
    No place to have private conversations – we have once small meeting room but its not really private, anyone can hear if they walk by, and everyone sees you going in there to discuss something private so it ends up raising more curiosity. This is hard when you want to discuss a sensitive matter about a project, client, confidential deal, not to mention performance issues or handing in your notice. A relatively minor matter like wanting to ask the boss’s advice/approval on how to handle a performance situation with someone I manage becomes overblown because I have to email her to ask to speak with her, find time in the room that everyone sees us going into, speak in soft voices, etc. Performance reviews themselves have to be taken out of the office to a nearby lunch place, which brings up an whole other set of issues because its in public, the waiter and neighboring diners can overhear, etc.

    The second major issue is what everyone says, its hard to block out distractions from coworkers. I think I have done a good job of adapting over the years to tune pretty much everything out, but we recently hired someone whose voice is naturally very loud/of a particular pitch that carries, so that’s been a challenge. We also have hired someone who insists upon asking/answering questions in person, and it is annoying to be interrupted several times a day. Sure, it is work related so I feel like I can’t really say much to him, but it interrupts my flow when I’m concentrating and breaks my focus.

    The third issue is more minor, and does not really affect my productivity, but still challenging from a quality of life standpoint. It is hard to make/receive personal calls in an open office. I rarely ever have to do either, but on the occasions that I do, it is usually an emergency or something sensitive, such as making a doctor’s appointment, or getting a call that a relative has passed away, or that a friend was just beaten and robbed. I often run out to my car if I need to make a call out myself such as to a doctor, but I cannot control when I receive calls in emergency situations and it is sometimes hard to maintain your composure and privacy.

    1. anon*

      The lack of privacy is really hard. I started a new job in an open office plan, and every time my boss gave me feedback, it felt like I was getting reprimanded in public. She’s a very loud person anyway, and would sit at her desk and call out to me across the room in front of everyone. It was very off-putting.

      It’s also annoying because the second I get an email she’s CC’d on, she will talk to me about it and want to discuss it. I felt like I had to instantly check every single email. It made it hard to focus on tasks because I got tons of emails all day. It was ridiculous, especially because a lot of these emails did not demand instantaneous responses. I had to prioritize my time. Now I just say, “Yeah, I got it, but I haven’t opened that email yet” and she backs off a bit. It’s hard to stand up for yourself when you’re new and you feel like you’re on a stage.

  85. christine*

    I have an office with real walls and a door that closes… but the walls do not go all the way up to the ceiling. After years of open-concept and annoying cubicles, I love the privacy. However, my walls do not go all the way up to the ceiling — there is about a 3-foot gap, possibly for ventilation/lighting reasons.

    I work in a university, and my floor mostly hosts academics who occasionally have a short meeting with a student, but mostly work quietly in their offices. However, my job is on a project that puts me on calls all the time, often abroad. I’ve just learned that my floor-mates have started complaining about my loud, grating phone voice — but there’s really not much I can do about that when I’m on bad Skype connections to people on the other side of the Atlantic! I feel bad, and it’s super awkward, but not really my fault. I have to do my job, and this is the space my bosses have given me in which to do it. What can I do? As a result I just continue doing my thing, but feel constantly guilty and awkward about it and every time I see an office-neighbour in the hall I wonder if they’re the one who complained and if they’re glaring at me resentfully.

    The good news, though, is that as a result of this complaint I may end up being moved to a new office with actual natural light and real walls, so let’s see.

  86. AdminAnon*

    I have my own office–with a door and everything–but I also have a weird little cutout window (think doctor’s office without the glass) right in front of my desk. When I first started, I had my back to the window, but so many people pass by that I ended up becoming constantly distracted as people passed behind me, so I turned my desk to face it. Unfortunately, my office is right in front of the conference room and near the coffee pot, so people tend to congregate outside of my office to socialize. Even when I’m not a part of the conversation, it can be loud/distracting. It’s especially difficult if I’m on the phone or trying to have a private conversation. And I can never take calls on speaker because the entire office can hear everything. But at least I’m not in the cube farm!

  87. Jennifer*

    I used to work in the “quiet office.” It was your basic cube farm, but 95% of the time, nobody in there actually needed to talk to a human or serve customers, so it was dead quiet and lovely.

    Now I work in “the fishbowl.” We serve customers for six hours a day, and anything anyone says is heard and commented on at any time, whether you’re at the front counter or not. Everyone is constantly asking other people questions and you have to drop everything and respond/solve a customer’s problems immediately, so interruption is going on all the time. They make us answer the general phone line multiple times a week and there is so much yakking in between other people answering the phones, and the questions, and other people being chatty, that you can’t hear what is going on.

    The one thing I really like is that I have a corner cube setup again (i.e. computer in the middle and long desk spaces on both sides) rather than the awkward, shitty rectangle I had in the last office.

    Also: my office is in a basement, which everyone complains about because you have no idea what the weather is like before you go out. (I’ve tried to find webcams online to fix this problem, but no dice.) It is also located several blocks away from the other building that hosts similar offices to what we do, and we are constantly having to tell people to go back and forth between the buildings. Which they get mad about. I’m told the boss 4 bosses ago refused to leave this building because we have the lord CEO mucketymuck in this building. They keep trying to get us moved out of here, but I am not holding my breath on this.

    At today’s meeting, they said it was a vague possibility they could move us into the other building’s third floor if they can just get the other people in there now kicked out (but they refuse to move into the basement and where else are they gonna go). However, they said it doesn’t even have cube farms there, it’s “offices and hallways.” HALLWAYS? We’re going to have to have desks in HALLWAYS? This does not sound great either.

  88. Aunt Vixen*

    At my last job, I was in a two-person shared office with a series of other introverts – people would apologize to one of us if they came by and had to ask the other one a question. I also had pretty flexible telework options for most of the time that I was there. There were a lot of things that weren’t great about that workplace, but my space wasn’t one of them.

    Currently, I’m in a three-sided cube in a large and fairly unpopulated farm. My one immediate co-worker is nearby, but other bits of our team are scattered throughout different areas of the building, some of which are much more crowded and bustling than ours. I don’t mind the desertion – I’d work from home all by myself if I could, but that’s never an option here. Alas, the area where we sit is not entirely empty – a couple of days a week there’s a shouter two or three rows away whose voice I just can’t tune out. I have foam earplugs in my desk drawer and people generally know if I don’t respond when they call they should give me a wave to get my attention.

    Possibility for remote sign-in is tops on my list in the ongoing job search. Hoo boy.

  89. stellanor*

    My office is open-plan and I mostly like it okay except for my cube-neighbors are a three-ring circus about 30% of the time. Also they can be very, very poor at reading other people. So sometimes if they’re goofing around in a way that disturbs me and I ask them to stop, they think I’m playing.

    I’m not sure how to impress upon them that I am dead serious. Yesterday I had to tell someone that if she didn’t stop I was going to have to complain to her manager, which worked but seemed kind of overkill. (That said none of the previous three or four “Please stop, I am completely serious I need for you to stop, I am not joking you are really bothering me stop” had any effect, so….)

  90. Anonymous*

    I have an open plan- Pods w/ 5 people lined up sharing desks/shelves in each pod. It’s a creative space, so mostly I like it. However, it’s hard when you have someone new that likes to really check out what’s on your screen. Usually we all keep to ourselves and only look at the other’s screen if they turn it to show us something. This coworker tends to look over all the time- notice I’m writing an email to my mom and then ask how my mom is. Or I’ll watch a quick youtube video for laughs and she’ll comment she’s already seen that video. It’s awkward and I want to put her in her place, but she’s super nice and I have a ‘resting bitch face’ so I don’t want people to think I’m actually cruel hearted.

  91. AnonAthon*

    Our office set-up is weird. We are in either the biggest cubes or the smallest offices, depending on your interpretation. Three of my walls go 90% of the way to the ceiling, so you lose the openness … but still get all the noise. Cubes are open on one side and the desks are built-in, such that your back has to face the opening. The color scheme and lighting are cheery … but we have no windows and concrete walls. There is only one conference room and it’s unexplainably giant. Whoever designed this space was not using their noggin. (Also: the person who works a few cubes away never seems to realize that all conversations are audible. Or doesn’t care. So I know way, way too much about said person’s life right now.)

    1. Windchime*

      Yeah, people who don’t know how to use their “inside voice” annoy me. It’s a telephone; you don’t have to scream into it to be heard. Normal speaking will work.

      But then there is the guy that sits next to me who visits all day long, but uses an urgent stage whisper….because he doesn’t want to bother anyone.

  92. Anonymous*

    My current situation isn’t ideal. I’m the only one I know of in the building with an office that has a door but shares the space with one other person. We’re also practically at capacity – there is literally no more office spaces or open cubicles on my floor. I’m closer to the door and she has the window space. We’re near the stairwell so it’s relatively quiet given how much you’d think people would walk by.

    My coworker makes my work space difficult for me. She’s fidgety and talks to herself sometimes, and she used to make comments about whatever I had up on my screen, so it can be hard to get things done without feeling like she was staring. Privacy screen won’t work – she makes the comments as she passes behind me to go to and from her desk.

    We both sometimes have lunch at our desks, but she tends to have crunchy foods and loud chip bags between 11:30 and 11:45, then leaves promptly at 11:45 to get a soda. You could set your watch to her. The good thing about her habits is they are predictable, but the bad thing is they can be annoying and repetitive. The days pass by slowly when you get into certain routines like that.

    Another difficult thing about my work space here’s also no space to meet with people, which I sometimes have to do as the company’s social media coordinator, so I have to arrange to meet in too-big conference rooms or in my office while my coworker listens in. It’s too awkward to say, “Let’s have a meeting, but you need to supply the space to do so.”

    Also, our boss does graphics at the company with her (she’s a junior designer), and sometimes they’ll have all of their conversations behind me while I work. The projects usually don’t involve me, and his office is right next to ours, but they frequently have the discussions in our space, which isn’t as large as his. He has a door – why can’t they go in there? Boggles my mind. Earphones only do so much to drown out the sound.

    I like it here – I do – but given I had the same start date as her, and we have the same space, and there’s nowhere to move around, it constantly feels like we’re seen as the same person, lumped together by circumstance, though our roles are different. I’m worried this will limit my career options here since we do have some of the same projects, but not all. Even when I discussed with my boss about a pay raise, he somehow was under the impression I was asking for myself and her (and call me selfish, but I wasn’t)! I’m giving this place a few years before I look elsewhere. Maybe she’ll move on by then.

  93. James M*

    I work in an office that is 10×11′ but it has doors on opposite sides and occasional traffic, so I get 6×11′ for my desk area. The building has no functioning windows (all locked and blocked) and it’s nearly impossible to get the air turned over. Climate control is abysmal. I don’t think the vents have ever been cleaned. I had to mostly block the single vent in my office (I found some large magnetic sheets for that purpose) to keep it from blowing directly at me.

    I can see the 50hz flicker of the ubiquitous flickering fluorescent lights and I can’t stand it. I used some warm white LED strips to construct (MacGyver style) some LED arrays one meter long that attach to the drop ceiling. They give a good amount of light without giving me a headache.

  94. Ursula*

    I used to be in a large-ish cubicle, though it was a good one – a window and 5 foot high walls and I only had one person (with whom I collaborate a lot) next to me. We had to move to another floor and the space in which he and I were going to be placed would have been rather awkward as cubicles, so he and I agreed to share an office (with a door!). It’s been great! People are able to just come in and ask us questions without worrying who the right person is to ask because we’re both right there, we are able to talk things through without having to get up to have face-to-face time, and we can do joint conference calls without bothering everyone in the office.
    Although it is a strange shape – about 165 degrees of a circle – it is the best office on the floor and our medical director has been (jokingly) threatening to put us in his. We do thank our lucky stars for it.

  95. MaryMary*

    One thing I love about my work space is having dual monitors. I thought they were silly when people first started getting them (c’mon, who are you, mission control?), but now I love having multiple documents open and being able to see them all easily. I’m less productive with only one screen now.

    And if you have an open space or cubicles, white noise is a must. It really helps keep the background noise to a tolerable level.

    1. Jamie*

      Yes – this is huge and for people who will benefit it’s a cost effective way to boost productivity.

      That said, those users of mine who are on their computers checking email and in the ERP for an hour a day who aren’t toggling multiple screens do not bring a print out of this to demand your second monitor. Answer is still no.

    2. Anonymous*

      I miss having dual monitors. I had them at my last job. I still need a dual monitor at our new place, and my boss has been asking. However, our Wellness director wants to install tablets on the treadmills so people can do internal training on them. Priorities…

    3. Windchime*

      Another +1 for dual monitors. I didn’t see the need for them, until I actually got them and now I can’t even fathom working on a single monitor. Well, I do it when I work at home, but it’s certainly more convenient to have two.

  96. Cath@VWXYNot?*

    My biggest problems in my current office are that it’s always too warm (and not just warm but warm and stuffy), and that I don’t get enough natural light. I came here from a job where I had a desk right next to a big window that I could open, and I’d always had lots of natural light in every other job I’ve ever had; it took a long time to adjust. I definitely seem to hit a much bigger 3pm energy slump now than I ever used to, especially in winter.

    This is the best job I’ve ever had in every other way, so it’s by no means a huge problem, but it is a problem.

    1. zoe*

      I understand that completely. At my current job in a cube farm, everyone is always complaining about being cold, so the thermostat is set on 78, usually with the heater kicking in, no matter what the temperature is outside. Office equipment, electronics, and having 200 people packed into one area causes it to feel much warmer…the air is almost thick. Yuck. I cannot stand being hot, and feel like it’s easier to warm up than to cool down. Plus, it just feels GROSS.

  97. Anonymous (4:53pm poster)*

    I don’t consider myself an introvert. I like talking my roommate’s ear off when I get home from work, for example. If I spend a whole day without talking to another person, I feel weird and “out of it.”
    BUT, this does not mean I like having an “open workspace.” Actually, I hate it.
    I can see how an open “collaborative” workspace would be conducive to some types of jobs. But it’s not conducive to mine. My main responsibility at work is to write. I write articles, content for our website, etc. As much as I like most of the people who sit near me (who work on completely separate projects, and with whom I have no professional need to collaborate) the constant noise coming from phone calls, conversations, and people talking to themselves (this is the worst; I’m sorry, but you’re not a toddler. Learn not to announce every thought going through your mind to the entire room.) is very distracting. It’s hard for me to tune out sounds around me. I know many people (including a coworker who happens to have her own office) who can do this easily, whose name you may have to call a few times before they will hear you if they’re concentrating on something. I am not one of those people; noises butt right in to the front of my consciousness. Also–I’m curious to know if this is true for other people–when I’m reading or writing, I hear the words in my head. Maybe that is part of my problem, but that’s how I work.
    Another thing that bothers me is the lack of natural light. Maybe it’s because the weather is still miserable and I’m getting cabin fever, but I really think it impairs my focus to sit under florescents and have no exposure to natural sunlight unless I go into my supervisor’s office or our conference room for a meeting. Is this asking too much? I’m relatively low on the corporate food chain (one step above entry-level) so maybe I am not deserving of natural light yet. But I think it’s unnatural for humans to sit under florescents in a windowless room all day.

    1. anon*


      “I’m sorry, but you’re not a toddler. Learn not to announce every thought going through your mind to the entire room.”


  98. Tara T.*

    In answer to Cat (March 6), the problem with asking in the phone screen if there is an open office or if you would have your own closed off office is you do not get to actually see it like in an in-person interview. I would wait until the in-person interview. Then you can see what the physical layout of the office is. It could be that there are cubicles but that the cubes have high walls, or high plants in between, or high filing cabinets that would block you from others and allow you to work quietly even if you do not have an actual room with a door.

  99. A nony cat*

    As someone who can be sensitive to certain noises (mainly loud typing (it’s a spacebar, guys, not a snake) and loud whispering) I thought I would be better off in a quite office…..but when I finally got one, I actually found out that it was actually harder to focus in such a “perfect” environment. Those little distractions, i.e. people interrupting me, jumping up to help someone because I saw them trying to lift the water jug, etc. actually broke up the monotony of what ever I was doing, kept me from spacing-out when I was bored or tired, and gave me needed mental breaks when I was focusing.

    What I learned from this was that there really isn’t a perfect work environment. Everything option (for me) has some drawback, so being given the flexibility to do what works for me is the most helpful thing a manager can do. For example, allowing employees to wear headphones or to work in a different location (such as an empty conference room or even the coffee shop on the first floor).

    (And, btw, the closest to idea work environment for me is the “college library” setting–where I can “be a part of the action” and work close to the people I am working with, but can keep my headphones on to drown out noise and discourage people from talking to me about unimportant things).

  100. Anonymous*

    I generally don’t mind my shared office, but my officemate has a nasty cold and has been coughing all day :/

  101. Andrea*

    As to impact of noise. I was working on a floor where a distant coworker would listen to Talk Radio all day. The sound arc’d to my desk where it sounded like the radio was on my desk. It got to where I found myself staying until 8-9 PM at night because I could only get work that required sustained thought done when I didn’t have Rush Limbaugh invading my work space.

    I also work in a unionized environment and the person making all the noise was someone I was told I couldn’t approach about his radio. I finally broke and sent an email request to his manager about the noise, inviting that person to come and hear what I heard at my desk. The manager then sent it to his boss, before the guy was told to turn his radio down. Then the next day it was back to the same level. It was weeks of emailing and intervention before he would turn it down lower.

    Yep, special.

  102. ChristineSW*

    I know you guys are talking about current office environments, but I can’t help but bring up the traumatically-toxic job I’ve mentioned here a few times as an example of a very poor setup.

    I was a front-desk receptionist. The immediate phone and desk had a pretty standard setup. However, the copier/printer was several feet away. I just felt it hurt my productivity and efficiency because if was at the copier, I couldn’t answer the phone or attend to any visitors. I’m trying to visualize the area—IIRC, I was far enough away that it looked like I wasn’t even at my desk. It probably wasn’t as bad as I remember (this was 13-14 years ago), but at the time, it just drove me nuts.

  103. MJ*

    I’m in a small office with cubicles and it’s THE WORST. I am in sales with two other salespeople (one is an owner and he has an office). I am constantly interrupted and distracted, not to mention I have absolutely NO PRIVACY. It’s difficult to talk with clients or have confidential conversations. It completely impacts my productivity as I don’t like it when my conversations are not private. It is a big reason why I’m on the job hunt.

  104. Lolly*

    4 person pods in runs of between 3 and 6 (so between 12 and 24 people per area) and offices for C level staff. My job involves a lot of sensitive phone conversations and my options for having them privately are almost nonexistent due to a lack of meeting rooms. The fact that we’re at capacity and then some doesn’t help either.

  105. Anonymous*

    I wouldn’t normally jump in, but I had to, since almost no one else likes an open setting. I am in a large open setting and I love it. I feel that people actually show more restraint than in the cube farms I’ve been in before this job. It doesn’t boder me to be interrupted, I have no problem stopping what I do, answering a couple of questions, and picking up where I left off. And no, my work is not mindless stuff, it’s actually non-repetitive. I feel I am a lot more in the know of what is happening in the company, of my coworkers’ projects, and many things get done faster and easier.

    1. Editor*

      Do you find that the lighting is good and the heat is evenly distributed? Because at the open-plan offices where I have worked, lighting and temperature issues have always been problems, whether or not people can deal with the noise levels.

  106. Research Manager*

    I love my open-plan office. Almost everyone in the company (11 of us) sit in the same room, with no cubicle walls. We get a lot out of being close and hearing each other work; we’re genuinely worried about how things will go when we expand to the point where we can’t all sit together any more! I would never have believed how much I’ve come to love our setup. I was NOT a fan at first, and it took me a long while to get used to tuning my coworkers out when necessary, but now I can’t imagine the company working any other way. I especially benefit from being around the sales and client support team; as we can hear them working with clients, I get immediate feedback on how my work has an impact on both the rest of the company and on our clients’ lives.

  107. Cassie*

    Our cubicles are arranged two-by-two, and the wall between the two cubicles is narrower than the other walls. So essentially, the cubicle I sit in has 2.5 walls only. All that open space is distracting – sound travels a lot, people walking by can see confidential documents on my computer screen, and it’s just a bit too open for my taste.

    I wear headphones from time to time to drown out the noise – it’s especially bothersome when I’m doing something that requires concentration. I’ve had to go for a walk so I can focus on my work (I’ve ended up copyediting and drafting memos while walking in the hallway – less noise!).

    And most of the staffers in the area are in offices, but they like milling around talking *outside* their offices. It drives me crazy – if I had an office, I’d spend the majority of my time inside of it!

  108. Julie*

    I’m going to jump in and give my answer and then go back and read everyone else’s. I started (almost 12 years ago) in a cubicle, then I shared an office with one other person, and after that, I had my own office for a little while. My company has been phasing out the office spaces that were being leased and moving everyone into the buildings they own (to save money). As a result, we are all working in close proximity with more and more people.

    Currently I sit at a desk in a room with eight other people. They are all on the same team, and I’m on a different team. When I have a remote class to teach, or if I have more than one meeting in a day, I work from home because it doesn’t seem fair to talk on my phone all day (I have a headset, but still…) and potentially distract everyone from their work. At the same time, the people who work in my “office” have small, impromptu meetings at their desks just about every day, but I’m able to tune them out, and it doesn’t really cause problems for me.

    Our entire building is going to be moved to a new building (that’s being built) in April, and we are going to have non-assigned seating, so you sit at whatever vacant desk you want. I think we’ll have one small rolling cabinet each, and we can lock our pens and files in it. I’m not sure why they’re doing it this way instead of giving people assigned seating, unless there’s not enough room for everyone to come in to work at the same time. I have a feeling that it will mean I’ll end up working from home even more, but I’d rather not do that, so I’m going to try to make it work. They did this in one of our other offices, and it just ended up that people staked out desks that they use every day, and there isn’t any moving around. I have already brought home my printer and a big stack of books because there won’t be room for much in the rolling cabinet, and right now I make full use of my small desk space. I don’t know where I’m going to put all of the stuff I’m going to have to bring home.

  109. Editor*

    My question about offices, and working environments in general, is why there is no “best practices” or quality standard that provides guidelines that optimize productivity. I realize individual workers are individual, but lighting, temperature, and noise issues do affect productivity — and there seems to be an entire corporate level that just ignores those factors and rents office space and sets up cubicles based on budgets that don’t factor in productivity or workforce changes or the way sound carries from the bathroom.

    Maybe in addition to “best places to work” lists we should have “best spaces to work” recognitions.

  110. Going Anon for this*

    We have a bunch of cubicles, not total open plan, but they’re very non-private cubicles – our taller employees can simply look over the top of them, while standing flat-footed on the floor. I think they’re less than 6 feet, but they have to be more than 5.5.

    Things that are problems:
    1. We have a lot of personnel – I’m not one – who need to be on the phone with clients. A lot. That’s noisy and distracting for the rest of us, but that’s actually minor.
    2. Those same coworkers, and others, need to discuss internal things with each other. That distracting the ones who are on the phone with clients, or worse, being audible to clients, is worse.
    3. Did I mention we don’t have headsets? An hour-long call with a client is a choice between a sore shoulder/hand/head, or putting the client on speaker and praying none of the other people make a loud comment that shouldn’t really be heard, at least out of context, by a client.
    4. People jump into other people’s conversations. It’s a benefit of this sort of thing, but also a drawback. It’s a benefit when it gets something sorted out faster because you accidentally pulled in someone who knew about it, but you didn’t realize. It’s a huge drawback when it draws in half the group to opine on it, but no one really knows, or worse, when it pulls over one of the office chatterboxes to extend things and derail them.
    5. I’m actually less approachable than I used to be when I had a small office. I don’t concentrate well with that much noise, so when I’m not involved in a conversation, I put headphones on and do my best to tune out the office.

    On the other hand, the work space I have has lots of desk space (many of us use two computers), lots of shelf space for reference books and a white board. The company got a cubicle-mount white board for every cubicle, which was awesome, and is HUGELY useful. Workflow white-boarding is so handy. And I really do like that the right person for a discussion might overhear it and join in – that’s useful enough to offset the derailing aspect of other people joining in.

    Now, someone tell me why I might sometimes have to view confidential data subject to specific laws, which requires me to sign that I’m trained and familiar on them every year (in fact, more than once a year), but my desk is configured so that it is impossible to keep my monitor from facing the window??

    I need to ask about those privacy screens! (In practice, my job almost never requires me to view such data. We are talking less than once a year. But still….)

  111. Hannah*

    Open plan office here. And one coworker who listens to drum’n’bass all day long on his iPod, loud enough for all to hear. Apart from that, he makes constant “noises”: coughing, swearing, humming, “popping”, sniffing, sighing, talking out loud to his computer, you name it, he does it. It drives me MAD and it’s one of the reasons i’m seriously considering leaving this office. We’ve of course tried talking to him, but he just gets angry and doens’t change a thing. Management won’t talk to him… Fun fun fun! Apart from that, i like the open plan idea, i like having little chats every now and then and i enjoy the sense of space.

  112. Ducky*

    I have only worked in open place office with no cubicles since I started my career 4 years ago. It’s pretty only desks in a very big room. I have a mild/moderate hearing loss which is just so perfect: I can tune out people extremely easily and concentrate, but if someone starts to talk to me I can look at the person and do some lip-reading. The naural lights in these offices are also really good (I guess it does help that we are on the 25th floor of a tower). What I love: dual monitors (how did I do before), gym in the same building (lunch time yoga HELLO), private and usually free “hush rooms” and an easy booking system for meeting rooms. I use to be talking salaries over the phone with candidates and I had a bluetooth headset so I would just go up, go into a hush room, tell them a number/negotiate, and then walk back to my desk. A little bit of exercise! What I don’t like: the freezing cold aircon.

  113. SC in SC*

    I’m fortunate to have a fairly large office that includes a conference table. I have two monitors on my desk that face away from the table but the best thing I did was buy an inexpensive 32 inch flat screen TV and route the signal from my primary monitor to it. I added a wireless mouse and keyboard so that I can sit at the table for small meetings and use the TV for the display. Also, having two monitors allows me to selectively share things without having to minimize or close applications.

  114. Marie*

    I have an office now, but when I first arrived I was in a cubicle near to a secretary with anger issues. She was on the phone all day with personal calls, generally swearing at the person on the other end for some or other small matter (the butcher doesn’t have the cut of meat she wants; the mechanic is not finished with her car; etc.). She also swore and slammed things if the printer ran out of paper – when the refills were right next to the printer. It would have been entertaining if I wasn’t quite so close by (e.g. my coworker once found her spiking her tea with a hip flask of whisky).

    It was almost impossible to get any work done without earplugs, and sometimes I would go and work all day in the library just to get away from her. It did, though, teach me to take all personal calls outside so as not to disturb others.

  115. Prague*

    We had a guy who spoke – loudly – to his wife in German for half the day. Apparently I have no problem overhearing Arabic or French (others in previous offices), but find German mentally intrusive. Then he’d talk to anyone he possibly could (the 40 minute conversation on freezer meat was memorable), would call people by name for responses, and repeated the same conversations as different people arrived in the morning. On the rare occasions I got him to do his job, he apparently needed to read to himself out loud. That’s in addition to singing, whistling, humming, drumming his hands and feet on the desk, and other extremely extroverted behavior.

    I’m an extreme introvert, and if he’d been good at his job, I would have tolerated everything else. I think I probably influenced his acceptance of another job – he used to tell me on a regular basis that I didn’t like fun.

  116. Prague*

    Scratch that. The German-speaking guy was annoying, but the worst part for me is actually fluorescent lights. I get migraines.

  117. KaliaC*

    Just put in my two weeks (thank god). But my current office has four floors. The floor I am on is open planned saved for two small conference rooms. Its not as horrible as it could be but there is this one woman with a laughter so obnoxiously loud that I can hear it through my headphones with heavy EDM blasting.

  118. Nerdling*

    We have a space originally designed to house two people that now houses seven. With one bathroom right in the middle of the space. Three of us sit completely in the open, right on top of one another.

    For the three of us in the bullpen, it can be extremely distracting when one or more of us is on the phone or trying to make an IM call. There are times when I flat-out can’t even hear myself think. And my coworker right next to me smacks her lips incessantly, even when she isn’t eating.

    Add in having the bathroom in the middle of everything, which really offers no privacy and the occasional massive distraction of stench, and it’s not a productive facility.

    We’re hopefully moving this year to have more space and cubicles with partial walls. And men’s and women’s restrooms that aren’t right next to all of our desks. I’m crossing my fingers.

  119. vvondervvoman*

    Years ago, I was coordinating a nutrition/cooking class. We (meaning I) would bring cooking supplies and food to a site to do the classes. Everything from salt and pepper to pots and and hot plates. This was a great job when I lived in City B, but programming, shopping, and the office was in City A.

    Then over one summer, it became my job to network our way into City B (the city I lived in). I was promised that after the summer was over and we had programming scheduled, I would have a local office.

    Well, in Jan of the next year I was fired because my manager’s manager thought I was “too disorganized.” Meaning I was buying fresh food in City A (that’s where our account was) and doing programming in City B, and using my car to store all program supplies, and my personal refrigerator to store perishable items. So yea, I’d say my work space negatively hurt my productivity. My manager was very sympathetic and still gives me a rave reference today, but I’m so glad to be out of that ridiculous situation. First question I ask on interviews–what’s the office space like?

  120. kate*

    I work in an open office and while I love it for interacting with coworkers, it’s also sometimes the hub for gathering, and people don’t take the hint when you’re on the phone. I’ve had to take conference calls under my desk because it was so loud. Once, my boss was even in our office area and saw this, but did nothing. Ugh.

  121. mandy*

    i was recently moved to a new cubicle less than a foot away from a lunch /printer room (constant conversations/ the door cannot be closed as it’s also an exit), the floor shakes when ever someone walks by and in an aisle where people are constantly cutting thru to get to a printer. the kicker is a vent directly over my desk that blows cold air hard enough to move paperwork around. i asked the office manager if it could be adjusted so the air didn’t blow directly onto my head. i was told no as it could only be open/closed (not true, in our other section they adjusted the vent for people). asked if i could put a piece of paper over the portion over my chair. nope, not allowed to touch or alter it in any way. she was really aggressive and rude during the whole conversation and didn’t try to come up with any suggestions on how to help me before she stalked off. i didn’t ask for it to be closed/nor do i want it closed as the others around me are boiling hot.

    i’m seriously thinking about duct taping an umbrella to my chair

  122. Stella Smith*

    My work space does not affect my productivity (and that of my remote assistants) at all because everything we do is virtually managed. I take pride in using the best business tool there is (Bitrix24) which greatly maximizes my time for business and spare time for family and leisure. We’re the mobile type of workers. =)

  123. Vicki*

    My final cubicle at LastJob was one of four located on a short aisle that connected two main corridors (so: lots of foot traffic). Large building. Easily 100 people on the floor.

    The other side of the aisle was the side wall of a meeting room (speaker phone bleed) and a call center room (radio and speaker phone bleed). The aisle was around the corner (30 feet) from the elevators and central staircase (happy chatting people getting off the elevators; tappy shoes on the stairs). No doors to the elevator bay or stairs.

    And, for extra fun, where the aisle met the corridor on one side we had: the breakroom for the floor! (no door). Fridge, microwave, sink, vending machines.

    Do I even have to tell youall, at this point, how this arrangement affected my productivity? It helped a little to orient my desk so that I faced the wall, away from the cubicle doorway and the people walking past all day long. Noise was much more difficult to filter out.

    I tried to work from home as much as possible.

  124. Anna*

    I was listening to the TED Radio Hour on NPR this weekend and Julian Treasure gave a talk entitled “How Can We All Listen Better,” during which he mentioned a study that found productivity was 2/3 lower in open-plan offices. He also said that humans can only process 1.6 conversations at a time (including your inner-monologue). It was pretty interesting. Here’s the transcript:

  125. part timer*

    I work in an academic building slash library (in the library part). I have a computer and scanner in a large room that abuts a classroom and sits over the office. Not only do I hear the teacher lecturing (and showing videos) so loud, I hear people gossiping downstairs through the floor vents. I spend as little time as possible there, working instead on a work laptop in the lounge area (which has comfortable seating but poor ergonomics).

    I now have back problems and eye strain but cannot take the extremely loud workspace as I find it very distracting. If I have to be there I put on headphones, but I have to play them so loud to drown out the noise that it makes my ears hurt. Regularly, there will be extreme noise throughout the building – musical instruments, drama classes performing monologues, people howling like monkeys, etc.

  126. Catherine*

    I work in a long rectangle of an office which has been rearranged but still has a horrible floor plan. If you think of the comment box as our office the door is in the top right corner, my desk faces it in the bottom right corner, the other 3 desks in the office are hidden behind a wall of cupboards and face to the opposite side of the room. We are all the same level positions but because my desk is at the front of the room I am treated as their secretary by all patients and service people. It is extremely difficult to feel like part of the casual conversation of the office because in order to be included I have to get up from my desk and walk to the other side of the room or I could lean across the other part of my desk awkwardly. To do that and still keep on top of my workload is difficult so I have just given up conversing with my coworkers and put my headphones in and do my work.
    My manager did come in and suggest moving the wall of cabinets but the other staff balked at the suggestion because “people could just walk in and speak to us”. They prefer to hide behind their desks and not deal with the public.
    There is one big benefit to the location of my desk and wearing headphones, I no longer have to listen to one of my coworkers slam the phone down at the end of EVERY conversation, I don’t think she is even aware anymore that she is doing it; I think once you have cracked the headset you should get a clue!

  127. Ms. MPA*

    My desk is in the lobby. We have a lot of visitors and I am constantly being interrupted throughout the day because I am mistaken for a receptionist. I was hired as project coordinator to manage a large contract (2 years/4 million dollars) that our non-profit has with the state and local government. My job is very demanding and I work 10-12 hour days and I take work home on the weekends. Co- workers and visitors seem as though they are entitled to my time because of my location. My assistance is regularly requested for help with making copies, locating co-workers in our office, and other random things people need help with. I usually tell person making the request, that I don’t how to help, I don’t know the answer to their question, or that I am really busy and refer them to a different person on the team. My response always seems to catch the person requesting assistance off guard. I don’t want to be seen as the office admin whose job is to do things for other people. I do help out occasionally if have a few spare moments in the day.

    I must admit that I my ego plays small role in my strong desire to be relocated. I have a Masters degree in public administration (concentrated in public and non-profit management). I am 31 years old and I have worked very hard over the years to move out of entry level admin roles. Additionally, this is no the first time that I have held an exempt professional level position.

    I am new to the organization and don’t want to rock the boat. I have expressed my frustration about being constantly interrupted throughout the day to my immediate manager several occasions. She knows hard I work and is very sympathetic. I am planning to make a case for relocation to our program director during my 6 month evaluation next week.

  128. Shortie*

    I work from home, and my work space helps me be very productive. U-shaped desk with plenty of room, very quiet except for the cat’s whining (all day with this!), VOIP phone with VPN so I have an actual extension just like the onsite workers, three-in-one printer, etc. The only thing that annoys me is door-to-door salesmen. Had to install shutters on the front door sidelights so they can’t see me.

    I do NOT miss working in cubicles in the office. It is so hard to be productive when you are interrupted by pop-ins all day long and caught by people in the hallway and so on and so forth. The supposed benefits of “water cooler brainstorming” were not worth the lowered productivity to me. I have managed to maintain those work relationships even after going offsite and remain very connected to headquarters through email, phone calls, visits 4-6 times per year, and online meeting/webcam software. Plenty of brainstorming going on–sometimes too much as our organization tends to hold a LOT of online/webcam meetings.

    Thinking of cubicles makes me miss the days when almost everyone, even entry and mid-level workers, had offices with doors. Sure, those doors stayed open most of the time, and you still got a lot of pop-ins, but if you needed to have a conference call or private meeting (or heaven forbid, just work on something for an hour without interruption), you could do so without having to duke it out for a meeting room.

  129. MaggiePi*

    The only thing keeping me sane in this cubicle today is headphones and coffitivity. If there was a latte delivery service I’d be all set!

  130. bh*

    I work in an open area with multiple desks simply arranged among office machines. On one end is a customer service desk and the other end is a break room. It is a constant stream of movement that makes it feel like you’re working in a hallway. I often have very detailed work I must concentrate on or conference calls that I need to be able to hear. When I’m on the phone or trying to concentrate, I hear shredders, conversations, someone talking themselves through the process of sending a fax, etc. The other thing is that since this area is technically Employees Only, people see this as their opportunity to 1)sigh loudly, 2)talk themselves through whatever task they’re doing 3)simply announce the manner of their next task to no one in particular “I’m going down the hall!” When I make comments about noise people take that as my acting more “busy and important” than you. The people around me don’t have to concentrate, read or focus on their jobs, it’s just not required and they are no less important. I can’t justify asking for an office as I do not meet with confidential clients nor is there any office space available. When my coworkers act up I simply ignore them and don’t participate in the chat. I try to switch tasks to something that requires less concentration. It works sometimes. I’m at least glad to see that I’m not alone in this issue.

  131. Lin*

    We moved to much smaller, more open cubicles (lower walls and no L walls that form the doorway) on a different floor a few months ago. This is the only floor that has these open cubicles. We’re systems engineers with no need to constantly collaborate. I’m a female on an all male team. Much of our work is individualized requiring much concentration and focus. I have blocked the distracting view to the guy diagonal to and in front of me with one of my pc’s (we have different networked pc’s) and a shelf above it basically forming a makeshift wall at the edge of the desk. Although his ridiculously loud inaccurate typing and other loud noises (clanking of spoons and bowls, banging things around, talking to himself), as well as a few others’ loud conversations makes me resort to headphones almost all day some days. Again, individualized focus is needed – music isn’t always the best for that either. Luckily, no one is in the cube directly across the little hallway from me….yet. I have definitely lost productivity and knew that I would having moved from an extremely private cubicle. Another issue, the guy diagonal and to the back of me has one of his computers monitors set up so that between the top of his monitor and the bottom of the shelf above it sits his little head. His head that is pointed directly at me when he’s on that pc which he is more so then the others. I’ve had to re-situate my pc’s monitors so that I cannot see his head with my peripheral vision so basically, he’s looking at the back of me all day. If I should turn to get something from the cabinet behind me – oftentimes he’ll wave. He is/was a friend of mine, but if I said something, he’s the type that would flip out and get all hurt. I cannot stand being in someone’s view all day long, and I’m not feeling so friendly towards him any longer. One day, I did something – got a tissue or something, and he said “you alright? I see you all day” I said, “I’m fine – maybe you should re-arrange so you’re not distracted by my every move.” He kind of chuckled it off – “Oh, I’m busy not distracted”….yeah right. The whole floor just had an outbreak of the flu and colds……less walls, less obstacles for germs to circulate and travel. This open stuff is miserable.

  132. Charity*

    This is not my first time working in an open environment but usually it is only 3-4 of working in the same area with enough space in between the cubicles where we have a little privacy. I have even worked in a cubicle outside of my boss’s office area and still felt like I had privacy. However, in my current area I work with 12 other people in my work space. Not only are they loud and obnoxious which makes me put my head phones. There are a few people that interrupt me constantly. Sometimes I am in a zone and I may have my headphones on and intentionally ignore anyone in my peripheral as I finish up tasks however these people will tap on my shoulders (scaring the mess out of me) or stand around and wait for me to finish which makes me very uncomfortable. It has really negatively affected my productivity with interruptions, distractions and the inability to concentrate over the loud and childish conversations. Additionally, there is this one lady that interrupts me every 5 minutes with a “funny” story about a client or staff that she is working with that I don’t even care to hear and is not relevant to my job whatsoever because I don’t work in the same department. To attempt to combat this I try to work remotely as there are little nooks all over the business property and we have wi-fi every where so I often go to other areas where I can find some peace and quiet. I have spoken to my boss and their boss about this and they seem not to care, but I am waiting for my boss to say something about my productivity so I can unload that I have been trying to tell him for a while that working up here is not ideal and counterproductive.

  133. Gern*

    I work in a hallway. There’s a steady stream of people walking behind me and yapping all day long. I don’t know if I should acknowledge people as they walk by or risk being thought rude and ignore them so I can concentrate on my work. They pipe a horrible Sirius XM station into the office areas and I have to wear earplugs or listen to my own music all day to drown it out. I have a glass walled boardroom right behind me. When there’s a meeting going on, I can not only hear it, but it feels like there are dozens of eyes boring into the back of my head. There are also people sitting at their desks right behind me, facing me. I hate feeling like there are people looking over my shoulder all day.

    I literally hate my job with a passion.

  134. EG*

    I work in a very relaxed company with open cubes. I manage the reception area, which is an L shaped desk. I sit at the bottom of the “L”, and there is a high wall straight ahead of me that wraps around to the side of me. Some of my coworkers feel that the top to this high wall is a good place for them to sort papers. One woman even used my desk while I was sitting at it. She faced me and asked to use my desk to tape a package, when her desk is MAYBE 10 steps away, and the table near the printer that she got the packing tape from would have been a GREAT place to tape the package. I also have another coworker who, despite being 6 steps away from me, says he gets no cell service and he sits in the chairs that are next to my desk (the waiting area). It makes it very hard to work, and it doesn’t happen super frequently, but it is very frustrating.

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