4 workplaces trends that are making you less productive

You’d think that workplace trends would help us be more productive, and they’re usually heralded that way. But in reality, many modern workplace trends can actually impede your productivity rather than raise it.

Here are four current trends that might be making you and your coworkers less productive.

1. Open office plans. Workplaces that consist of wide open space – no private offices and not even any cubicles – are gaining popularity, even though most workers hate working in them. While companies that have made the switch have promised improved collaboration and team work, most workers dislike the loss of privacy and the distractions that make it hard to focus.

As it turns out, those complaining workers are on to something. A flood of new research shows that open layouts increase stress, raise blood pressure, and cause workers to take more sick leave. A Harvard study found that whatever collaboration benefits these layouts provide were outweighed by workers’ dissatisfaction with noise and privacy issues. Noisier work settings undermine both motivation and productivity, according to research in the Journal of Applied Psychology. And “workers in two-person offices took an average of 50 percent more sick leave than those in single offices, while those who worked in fully open offices were out an average of 62 percent more,” reports a recent study of more than 2,400 employees in Denmark.

Adding insult to injury, that collaboration promised by open-office proponents isn’t even happening: Collaboration dropped by 20 percent between 2008 and 2013, while time spent alone has increased by 13 percent, according to a survey by design firm Gensler.

2. Constantly being on call. Before email and cell phones became so ubiquitous, most people could disconnect from work at the end of the work day. (Remember when it used to seem that doctors were the only ones in danger of being contacted by work during a weekend or evening?) Now people in all sorts of jobs and at all levels are expected to stay connected and respond to calls, texts, and emails 24/7, meaning that some people never really get to turn work off at all. While this is supposed to raise productivity – after all, if you’re working at 10 p.m., you must be getting more done overall, right? – in the long-term in tends to lower productivity, as people become burned out and miserable.

3. Email. I say this as a lover of email, but while email has made many things easier and more efficient, it has a dark side too. We field way more messages via email than office workers in earlier eras ever fielded via memos, phone calls, or in-person conversations. It’s so easy to dash off quick questions to coworkers or send FYIs or otherwise fill up our colleagues’ in-boxes that we all do it without thinking about our collective abilities to process all these messages and still get our core work done – or rather, still get our core work done within a reasonable number of hours and unplug at the end of the day.

4. Group work. Modern companies are fond of organizing employees into teams, but some research indicates that group work can actually lower productivity. That’s because people in groups tend to exert less effort than they would individually, partly because they’re less accountable for results. In fact, studies consistently show that as a working group size increases, work capacity declines.

Making matters worse, research finds that creativity can be stifled in groups because of the pressure to conform to the majority opinion. If that makes you wonder about the utility of group brainstorming, you’re on to something: A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that group brainstorming generates far fewer ideas than the combined efforts of several individuals working alone.

It’s something to consider before assembling your next project team.

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. jordanjay29*

    Before the page even loaded, I was like “Open office plan, trend #1.” Imagine my surprise when the page finally did load and I was greeted by trend number one. I love how you think, Alison.

    1. Erik*

      Me too – I can’t stand them. I worked as a consultant at a company with this and it was miserable. Made me want to go back to a cubicle.

    2. Vicki*

      This is the biggest issue in my job search. If I get an on-site interview, I walk onto the floor and Boom! I see tables stretching left and right, people facing each and elbow to elbow. I hear the chatter, the phones, the Ping Pong game. I watch ping pong balls bouncing onto desks.

      And I know that it doesn’t matter how well the interview might go, there’s no way I could take the job.

      If I wanted to work in a Call Center, I would be looking for a job in a Call Center.

  2. Allison*

    Gah, I hate working in open spaces. Right now there’s a group of guys talking and laughing right behind me, and yesterday my male c0-workers were loudly bro-ing out about fantasy football, not to mention all the people who race by my desk on a daily basis, it’s all very distracting. There’s a reason I asked to work from home once a week. Thankfully my boss is trying to get me moved to a cubicle so I won’t deal with as many distractions.

      1. Bea W*

        I’d never get anything done in that environment. Too busy giggling, and possibly joining in. I’m hard wired to find fart noises debilitatingly hilarious.

      2. Allison*

        Ugh, I’m so sorry . . . I get that some noise is necessary, people need to chat about projects and people need to talk on the phone, but it seems like open offices require a level of etiquette and consideration that an astoundingly small percentage of humans seem to have.

    1. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

      It’s our first week back, and apparently over the holidays everyone on my floor has simultaneously forgotten how to turn their phones onto silent/vibrate. I. Am. Going. Mad.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      Being in a cube doesn’t really reduce the noise levels all that much, unless you also get quieter neighbors.

      1. Vicki*

        True. People in cubes forget (or don;t care) that they’re not sound barriers. My pet cube-land peeve is conference calls on speaker phone!

  3. puddin*

    Open floor plans…gah! I mean who watches the movie, 9-5, and thinks “Yeah I want to re-create the secretarial pool kind of feel they have going on there! That looks ultra productive!”

    1. Allison*

      To be fair, it’s not about productivity. They say it’s about collaboration, and fostering better communication, but I suspect companies adopt open offices because they’re more versatile, and can accommodate more people. Really, they’re cheaper and easier to manage.

      1. INTP*

        Agreed. And there’s sometimes an assumption that people will waste less time off task if everyone can see their computer screens.

      2. Vicki*

        I like that you wrote “they say it’s about collaboration”.

        We had a running joke at LastJob, that if someone was on speaker phone, just chime in. What? I wasn’t invited to your conference call meeting? But, I’m collaborating! Spontaneously!

  4. AMG*

    I don’t love the group work as much. I think it’s a case of the weakest link dragging everyone else down. We have to spend 20 minutes stopping to explain this to you *again* when we would be developing a solution? *sigh*.

    1. Jennifer*

      Hah. I despised group work in school for just that reason. At least one person will do nothing at all and the other three are the ones who care about getting it done, so they have to do it all.

      1. Sherm*

        +1. When I was in high school (early 90s) group work was the hot new thing in my school district, and the teachers were encouraged to create group assignments. But in my case it was often three people who didn’t care, and one person who (resentfully) carried the whole team.

      2. Koko*

        That’s why to me it doesn’t make sense to have redundancies on group projects in the working world. I’ve never had issues with being on a team where someone wasn’t pulling their weight, but every team I can recall being on, I was the only person who did the thing I do and I wasn’t qualified to do the things anyone else on the team did. If anyone was slacking off they would have been dropping a ball that was clearly theirs and the project manager’s job would be to get the deliverable out of them and adjust the timeline if someone missed a deadline–and I imagine it would be well known to all on the project whose fault it was that the timeline had to slip. (But perhaps I’ve worked under some skillful project managers who kept me from being aware that my counterparts were slacking off.)

        1. AnotherFed*

          But what happens when someone has a family emergency, or leaves for a new job, or gets hit by a bus on the way to lunch? The best teams I’ve worked with have had enough overlap in skills, knowledge, and experience that they could absorb absences long enough for the issue to be resolved or someone new to come up to speed. Granted, not without some extra hours and flexing like Gumby, and we didn’t carry slackers (they don’t last long where I am…), just emergencies, but it was critical to be able to handle those emergencies without dropping things.

  5. Christy*

    Serious poll: Does anyone here actually like open office plans? I’m in a 6′ tall cubicle so I wouldn’t know.

    1. MJH*

      Yes, I prefer them to high-walled cubes. I don’t like cube farms, and I like how in my open office plan there is plenty of natural light…enough to drowned out the fluorescents when it is sunny. It feels better for my mental health and I like the open feel, as opposed to the closed in one. Ugh.

      1. Allison*

        I’m not a huge fan of the “cube farm” concept, but it’s not the only alternative to open spaces. At my old job my team worked in a big room together, and it had lots of natural light coming in. We could talk about projects and socialize, so it allowed for collaboration and team building, but being in that room sheltered us from the usual hustle and bustle of the workplace.

      2. Sharon*

        New cube walls are designed with translucent panels now so you can have high walls that let natural light come through. Mine has that, although they sadly designed our space with 3-foot walls. Our manager offices, though, are made from floor to ceiling cube walls and one of their four walls are clear/translucent. It’s a very bright office. (On the other hand, there’s zero privacy, even for the managers. We can walk along the hallway behind our manager’s walls and hear every word!)

        1. Judy*

          Cube farms at least give the illusion of privacy. When I was much younger, I was in an open area with drafting tables (yes, that long ago!) and was having trouble modifying something near the top of the drawing. Someone from another part of the room brought me a stool to stand on. It was very nice of him, but really illustrated that in that very open environment, this young female had lots of eyes on her.

          So cube farms at least give some visual privacy, even if they don’t give audible privacy.

    2. cheeky*

      My office tried open office plans, but we successfully lobbied for 6′ tall cube walls because we could not get our work done at all. Who likes to spend their work days staring at each other all day?

    3. Gem*

      I’ve only ever been in open plan offices (when I’ve been in an office). I would much rather that than cubicles, which would make me feel claustrophobic. Then again, I’ll listen to audiobooks when I work as I can focus better to background voices than silence/music, so clearly I’m weird :P

    4. Koko*

      I’m somewhat torn. When I started my current job, we were under renovation and I sat with my 4 teammates in a cube farm sort of area – but the “walls” of the cubes only extended about 12″ over the height of the desks, so even though everyone was inside a square-shaped cube area with an L-shaped desk, filing cabinets, and a bulletin board, we could all see each other. So somewhat like an open plan but with a distinct area that you owned. We sat there for my first three months or so and then we all got private offices after renovations finished. I wouldn’t voluntarily go back to that arrangement because I love being able to listen to music without headphones in my office, but at the same time I often wonder if I would have bonded with my new team as quickly and strongly as I did if we hadn’t all been sitting there together for my first 12 weeks.

    5. AnotherFed*

      I’ve never had a true open office, but I have sat in a bullpen type office where we all owned desks that were crammed in wherever there was space. As long as my back wasn’t to traffic, I liked it – you could join any conversation you wanted if you wanted to, or you could ignore it if you just wanted to focus. Now I’m in a storage building converted to cubes, so we have about 6 cubes to a room. I hate it – it’s much darker, and the cubes absorb too much of the normal white noise of an office but none of my coworkers’ telephone calls.

  6. Janet*

    I once went for a job interview at a small PR agency and I admit I was meh on the overall organization but when I came in and saw that they had an open office plan, I knew that there was no way I could work there. When they called me to book a second interview I lied and told them that I had accepted a position elsewhere.

    1. Jeanne*

      I think it’s important that we are honest about this. Not that you were wrong. But if the companies are told that people won’t work there because of an open office plan, maybe they would consider changing.

  7. Bea W*

    For some reason people in my group seems to like group writing, as in put us all in a room to write a process document. I find this so indescribably painful. It feels slow and arduous and for myself, bad at verbally dictating literally what to put down in writing, crappy verbal memory, and ADHD that makes it more difficult for me to follow all that verbal creation of a document, it’s awful and frustrating, and I can’t contribute very well in this format. Fercrisakes! These are written documents. Someone WRITE a draft, and send it out for review and feedback. Don’t make everyone sit in a meeting for an hour trying to figure out how to write a coherent paragraph or forcing people to read off a screen in a short amount of time to review and comment (slow reader here!). I don’t know why people think this is an efficient way to create documents, especially with more than 3 people in the room. There is that pressure to conform too or to make everyone happy. I actually had a co-worker object that I wasn’t 100% agreeing with whatever and she was trying hard to make everyone happy. What??? The goal here is to create a process document that makes sense to people, not to make sure everyone is happy and we’re all in lock step over all the minute details. GAH!

    It’s double super frustrating when written feedback is collected before the meeting and isn’t looked at. So people sit around repeating what they already said and re-creating the wheel. If I had a dollar for every time I said “I added an example to the document I sent you. Just copy paste…” I could retire early. The worst is when you tell people they don’t have to rewrite or reformat and we sit in the meeting while someone attempts to recreate someone’s pre-submitted idea from scratch. UGH!

    OMG I can’t shut up..

    1. Sascha*

      That’s so awful! I had a manager who would do this. She’d call everyone in our dept (except the admin assistants) into the conference room to help her WRITE EMAILS. No joke. This was like 15~ people that she wanted to group write emails with.

      She was such a micromanaging nervous wreck, I would not be surprised to hear if she had a stroke at some point. A kind person overall, but just way too frazzled.

    2. puddin*

      Totally in agreement!

      I did not know that group writing was a thing until a few years ago. It sounded to be a huge time waster, and proved to be so for the exact reasons you describe.

    3. Cath in Canada*

      Ugh, I’m on a project where this happens a lot, although we’ve been doing it less since I suggested that it might not be the best use of time to have six people sitting in a room debating word choice for each sentence. The worst was when it was my turn to type (with the laptop projecting onto the big screen in real time) and two managers were arguing about which word to use, while I sat there with my fingers on the keyboard trying to decide which one to go with. I ended up typing both words, separated by a slash, highlighting them, and saying “let’s come back to that one”.

      I’m a good writer and a better editor, but I just can’t do it verbally damnit!

    4. Persephone Mulberry*

      I. Can’t. Even.

      I can barely tolerate group doc review/editing. Trying to write from scratch that way would make me insane.

    5. Koko*

      I’ve never heard of this group writing thing, and now I’m going to have nightmares about it. Group writing should be limited to that party game where everyone adds one sentence and it comes out disjointed and hilarious.

      1. Bea W*

        I propose we write all of our process documents this way. Maybe people will actually read them.

        Surely someone has published Office Mad Libs.

  8. Annalee*

    My big problem with our open office plan is that I startle very easily. It’s really hard to focus when you have to spend braincycles keeping track of everyone around you and listening for footsteps so that you don’t jump out of your chair if someone approaches you from behind.

    Thankfully, we’ve got a liberal telework policy, so on days when I know I’m not getting one of the two seats with a wall right behind it, I just work from home.

  9. De Minimis*

    I don’t *like* open office plans but have seen situations where they make sense. If it’s a workplace where people move around a lot on multiple projects and work with a variety of people, open office plans can be effective. But in workplaces where you’re working on regular tasks with the same people most of the time, not so much.

  10. Stephanie*

    #3: I am supposed to get an email address at my current position (there’s some office/computer work involved), but onboarding was disorganized and there was a lot of shuffling around of the managers between promotions, special assignments, and transfers. I haven’t missed having one, given that a lot of what I do is easier resolved in a phone call. Sort of hoping I don’t get one.

  11. A Jane*

    Maybe it’s because I haven’t eaten lunch yet, but what exactly is meant by #4 Group Work? I can kind of see the group brainstorming one, but I’m having trouble thinking of other examples.

    1. Wanna-Alp*

      To offer an analogy: if I’m doing DIY, there’s no use doing it with my other half. We have fairly similar competence, but come up with different ideas and methods. Then there is disagreement of how we should do the task, and so we end up discussing to resolve. It takes twice the time as if I’d just done it in the first place, because of all the extra communication that has to happen.

      Now admittedly, on many occasions in the workplace, teamwork needs to happen, and good communication needs to happen too, and there’s no way round that, but I’m sure that the above-mentioned effect still applies to an extent: the communication and resolving disagreements will still add a time overhead, and any inefficiency in that will make it worse.

  12. Poohbear McGriddles*

    Open work spaces have got to be the best thing to happen to headphone manufacturers since the Sony Walkman. Or maybe the iPod.

  13. DJ*

    The second point resonates with me. My husband has the sole leadership role in his department, so he’s always on call. We’re used to calls in the middle of the night and on his days off. He’s even had calls while we’re walking around Disney World. And now, they’ve somehow gotten hold of my cell phone number. The scary part…they don’t seem to realize (or care) that these calls are excessive.

      1. Gene*

        If I were you and I saw caller ID showing his work, I’d answer as I do with telemarketers (or anyone who calls me from a blocked number), “Hi! Thanks for calling Gimp’s Rent-A-Blimp! Our blimps never go limp! We have blimps in all sizes for all occasions! How can I help you today?!??!!!!” No matter what they say, I hard sell on blimps until they hang up.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      Ugh, yes, definitely. One of the reasons I looked forward to doing my MBA online I thought there would be no group projects. Wrong. In one class, it ended up being just one other guy and me on a project, because the other person in our group dropped the class. He was pretty much dead weight. We communicated a bit via email and phone about what to do, and we were going in circles. So, I picked the topic, identified the research to be done, divvied it up between us, and told him when he was done to email it to me, and then I would compile everything into a single document and turn it in.

      When I got his part of the paper, I was appalled. The actual research wasn’t bad, but the writing was terrible. Not only was it not graduate school level writing, I’m not even sure it was high school level. It was 4th of July weekend, and we were planning to go camping with some other people. I told my husband to go by himself and have a good time, and I spent the weekend rewriting his portion of the paper. There was no way I was going to put my name on something so substandard.

      1. Malissa*

        I completely torched a guy I collaborated with. We had two assignments to do together. The first one I did 75-90% of all the work, depending on how you looked at it. The assurance was he’d pick up the slack on the second one.
        Time for the second one came around. He never posted anything online. I kept asking him about his work. All assurances and questions when I would be done with my part. At two days until it was due I posted it online and emailed the professor that this was 100% my work. The guy took my work, tweaked it so it was actually worse and then turned it in like he’d collaborated on it.
        I got an A, he had to retake the class.

        1. Sheila*

          My “favorite” was the guy in my group who turned in copypasted info from websites for his part of the project. Not a summary, not even an attempt at plagiarism – the URL was included. So who got to summarize it? Yeeep.

          No, wait, my real “favorite” was the woman who was taking it remotely, did 0 work, and when I let the instructor know sent me some long flaming emails about how it was my fault. I guess I didn’t send enough urgent emails to her, so she assumed she had no work to do? What even.

          1. Nerd Girl*

            In college I had to do a project with 6 other people. The assignment was to create a TV segment from creation to completion. We were all given assignments by our teacher but it was up to us to make it all work together. Some of us had to wear dual hats. I was the writer and producer on the assignment. The problem on our team was our “director”. He was a micro-manager who wanted us all to fall into his vision for the segment (which was 50% of our grade!). In the middle of our final, with the prof sitting in the room, he freaked out and started tossing equipment around the room. He punched the poor guy assigned to be the camera man, ripped the working script out of my hands and tore it up, and then walked out on the assignment completely. There was this moment of horrible silence where we all looked at one another like “OMG now what?” The prof looked at us and said something like “I’d like to tell you you’ll never run into something like that in the real world, but they’re out there! The trick is what you do despite it.” Then he gave us 5 minutes to regroup and we churned out an A- project. We would have gotten a higher grade had the guy not come back and make a scene toward the end of the project as well. Luckily, we were all sort of expecting him to make a return and were prepared. The camera guy who took a punch? He was security the second time. LOL

          2. Julia*

            I had a group project for the final course of my MBA program with 6 other students. I’d say 4 of them were worthless but the 2 or 3 of us who weren’t couldn’t realistcally carry the whole assignment. I went to our teacher to discuss the situation and his reply was that this was how real life was; deal with it. ( I was not a kid, I had more that 20 years work experience at the time.) our finished product was terrible. The only saving grace, for me, was that my grade was not completely based on the project, there were other assignments that raised my grade, and the slackers got poor grades. But it was a bad experience and I didn’t get any support from my professor.

    2. Cath in Canada*

      I had the same classmates for pretty much every course at undergrad level (that’s how it works for many UK degrees), and all the profs divided us into groups of four in the exact same way: by going down the alphabetical class list from A to Z. That meant my group was the same almost every time. One of them was awesome, one was OK, and the other hardly ever contributed anything, which was actually preferable to the times when he did contribute. Luckily the profs all got to know his reputation and would give the other three of us full marks for a 75% complete project (we refused to do Johnny Q Slacker’s parts of the work for him).

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Group work in college was worse than what I have experienced in the working world.

      One prof gave us an assignment to do with people who were overseas. We were told to research their culture, then begin working with them. I found nothing on their culture, so I started working. I tried to ask the prof questions but she refused to answer. There were three of us in my group. Only one person would bother to answer emails. Finally, I sensed that the third person was MIA, entirely, not that anyone told me. I lost my second team mate for unknown reasons. Finally, I wrote the whole thing myself, trying to put in the few paragraphs I had been given. I asked multiple times for them to review it. No answer. I sent it to the prof and sent an email that I had sent the work in. That is when H broke loose. The emails flew like bullets. It was nasty.
      It took a while to piece it together. The prof was doing some kind of study on us and using us for her paper that she was writing- that was why she could not give me any information/advice about how to handle the situation. She could not influence the subjects of her study. (Conflict of interest? Your study subjects are your students?)

      The next thing that went wrong was the internet crashed- numerous highways went down because of an attack and my emails were not getting to my team mates. The very next thing that happened, is I explained this to the prof and she said “no, that did not happen.” What is up with people that say this? It was in the headlines.

      The thing was a nightmare. The prof gave me a crappy review of my work. But she told me to take another class with her and that would balance the situation. Because I can be an idiot from time to time- I took the class. I will say the next class was the only class I have ever had where students were screaming at each other on the last day. I mean everyone was screaming/fighting. I sneaked out the door as soon as I could.

      I did eventually find her study and I read it. I don’t know if I can ever believe a study again. What she wrote was so far removed from what actually happened it was incredible. I know because me and my peers were the subjects of that study.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Oh God, me too. Especially in college it was really hard to get people together and then the personalities–sheesh. This last go-round, I was working with one woman I had another class with, C, and she was a good worker. The other one, A, was a drama queen–refused to use the discussion board that the teacher set up and was just a huge PITA. A suggested she do our parts and then give credit, but I did not want her putting my name on something I had not done. And then she got upset because I said I didn’t care for the person who taught another one of her classes (whom she loved), and she blew it up into this huge offense and threw a giant tantrum in email. She badmouthed C behind her back, too, when she couldn’t come to a meeting we had–she told me that “C got mad at me and that’s why she’s not at our meeting.” C told me later that no, she had to leave for a family emergency and had told her that, but A totally lied to make C look bad (I didn’t fall for it anyway). This was after A was completely AWOL for four days because she had a car accident.

      I seriously thought it was me for a while, because I had trouble with the assignment, but I work collaboratively at my job all the time without issues like this. She was so hard to get along with that C and I ended up not working with her and the instructor had to give us separate grades.

  14. Malissa*

    Group work = the person who actually cares about the outcome having to work twice as hard then if they’d done the project alone. Or maybe I’m just cynical.

    1. Ebonarc*

      I agree completely. I have yet to see a genuine group project now that I’m out of college, but the ones in college were misery–I was always the guy who cared about the outcome. I have every reason to believe that any group projects in the work world I encounter will be just as bad.

      1. Sascha*

        The only time post-college group projects have worked for me is when I was able to choose who was in my group. I picked 2-3 people who cared about the project as much as I did, and I knew would work hard. We achieved glorious things.

        And then the rest of time it was just like college and I wanted to flip a table.

    2. Nerd Girl*

      No you’re not cynical. I hate group work. There’s always the person who doesn’t care, the person who sees the group work as a reason to socialize, and the person who ends up shouldering most of the work. I tend to be that last one.

    3. So Very Anonymous*

      I’m old enough that group work wasn’t a Thing in college, but I got stuck in so. many. groups. in a professional degree program. The first group I was in was actually fabulous — we got our work done, and when two of us were assigned too much work, at different times, the group came together and did some really good collaborative work to fix the problems. But so many groups were just crap. And interestingly, now that I’m working in the field, I’ve had people respond to my description of the first (awesome!) group negatively because of the helping each other part. Like, the two of us who got overwhelmed should have sucked it up and done our assigned part… when to me it was obvious that the assigning had gotten out of whack and two of us had been “assigned” HUGE things that should have been divvied up better. As it was, we all got a chance to work on most of the parts of the project, instead of it being parceled out to individuals. And I’m still in touch with two of my three other team members.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Oh this is so right. Another course I took in college, I shifted to doing independent study as opposed to attending classes. The class was separated into teams to do the final big project. I did my project on my own. The prof said my project was better than what the teams did. Sadly, I do not believe my project was that good to begin with.

  15. Rex*

    Ugh, open offices. I’m just glad I’m in a senior enough point in my career that I can ask for an office, with a door. I feel for the younger workers out there. I do what I can to push back against this trend, when I can.

    1. Windchime*

      Where I work, only director level and higher are guaranteed an office. Most managers have an office but there are several who do not, due to lack of offices. I would love to have an office so I could concentrate, but I would be laughed out of the building despite my years of seniority.

      1. De Minimis*

        At my former workplace, managers and higher got their own offices, anyone lower than that either shared an office or had a cube. Even then, they would shift the offices around yearly for everyone below partner.

        There was also an unspoken rule that vacant offices were fair game to use for small meetings and I think the only offices exempt from that were partner offices.

        I currently have my own office but I used to share and it’s still partitioned off. My now-retired co-worker’s area is still the way it was when she left. I’m accustomed to how I have it now so I don’t really care if they remove everything and give me the entire space.

    2. Noah*

      Where I work not even the CEO has an office. It is all open plan, although we are grouped by department.

  16. Hanukkah Balls*

    I’ll jump on the open office bandwagon! At my office everybody except executive level staff are in the open — including managers with teams of 20 or 30 people. It’s especially painful this time of year when everybody is trying to reserve the one private conference room to do annual appraisals. We often have to do those out in the open just because there’s no other space (we’re in an isolated location so it’s not easy to go to a restaurant or something) — so everybody knows everybody else’s business and employees are generally very aware if anybody’s on a PIP or if somebody’s manager is unhappy with them. It’s really terrible.

  17. PassTheSoma*

    Group brainstorming is the worst. We have a manager who likes to call “blue sky” brainstorming sessions, then start them off by presenting the conclusion he wants us to reach. Really.

  18. Hypnotist Collector*

    I just started a job that’s full-on with every one of these, as well as expected 50+-hour-weeks. Leaving for lunch to eat or work out is discouraged. I also have a long commute. I’m very grateful to have a job after a long search, but I fear for my health and sanity.

  19. EE*

    Honestly, I love open-plan. The cubicle thing that some countries have sounds simply awful, and as for everybody being cordoned off, I find it a lot easier to ask brief questions when we’re all together rather than Making An Appointment or Knocking On A Door or sending an e-mail that will get lost in a slew of other e-mails.

  20. Sharon*

    Last week I got to “visit” someone’s open office. Hubby found a very cool men’s clothing service that measures, tailors and sells high-quality clothes. We went in there for a custom fitting for him. Not so cool that we were escorted through their open office in the front of the office space, to the back where the fitting/lounge areas were. Nothing like walking your clients through your messy office, or in other words putting the public areas of your office behind (what SHOULD be) private areas. Dumb.

  21. SBL*

    We will shortly be going from 2 person offices as we have had for the last 25 years to open plan. We are dreading it.
    Can’t wait until we all get sick. My boss already said to smile and pretend it is good at first and then work from home as much as you need to.

  22. HR Manager*

    With all the anti-open office space sentiments here, there is an interesting blog article at that claims to debunk the myths of an open office environment design:
    (replace xx with tt)

    Having sat in an open office – I am neither pro or con. Our office did in fact have a lot of the features identified in this blog article (freedom to move around – private spaces for people or teams to move into) and that is perhaps what made the experience better.

    1. Noah*

      I agree, it makes a big difference if you have lots of phone/web conference rooms, small conference rooms, large conference rooms, etc. I really don’t mind out open plan office, but it was thought out and intended to be that way. Breakroom space is kept seperate from the office space and there is a general rule that if you need to have a long conversation you pick up your stuff and find a conference room.

  23. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I hate open office plans, but my new job is all about the open office. And I love my new job. What makes it work, though, is that all of the offices are pretty small (the largest has 7 people, including the CEO) and that work methods are very defined. We are instructed to block off time on our calendars during which we cannot be disturbed, no matter who’s asking– we’re encouraged to turn off our email and phones. There are also spaces we can go into when we need some quiet or privacy (or when we have a particularly long/loud client call). We got noise-cancelling headphones as holiday gifts, and that also helps. The benefits are that we get easy collaboration and we don’t need to walk across an office or knock on a door to know if someone’s busy. I’m getting used to it, but I think this is something that has to be very, very carefully thought out.

    1. Matt*

      The thing about turning off the phones seems really great to me … we work in small offices, and have no written policy about reachability; however in our office culture it seems to be regarded as mortal sin to ever not answer the phone while sitting at one’s desk.

  24. Matt*

    I almost expected to find the “email” point as #1, since that’s the one you seem to read about most often … but I know that Alison is an email person too ;)

    The important point about email is that certain emails shouldn’t be sent at all. Most other articles / blogs about that topics recommend that one should use phone or personal deskside visit instead, which is the worst IMO. Use email as default, but only as far as necessary, do not immediately dash out any question that comes up to everyone that might know, use phone or personal visit only if it’s really, really urgent. If the topic is too complex and would end up as an “email ping pong” dialogue, set up a scheduled meeting or phone call. This way everyone has the chance to achieve undisturbed working periods as far as possible.

  25. LaSharron*

    I didn’t like group projects for the same reason lots of people stated. Unless people get to pick project buddies who they KNOW they can collaborate well with, the weakest link will drag down the team or the most powerful personality will rule the project.

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