open offices are terrible for employees

Of all the workplace trends that inspire grumbling among workers, perhaps none generates as much vitriol as “open offices,” those wide open workspaces with no private offices or cubicles. For many people, the noise, distractions, inability to focus, and lack of privacy make open offices a modern torture device. And yet open floor plans continue to gain popularity among employers.

At Slate today, I wrote about why (many/most) people hate them, and why employers like them. You can read it here.

{ 358 comments… read them below }

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’ve been thinking that it has to be a control issue. No way can cubicle walls be so expensive that the cost savings from not putting them in or from removing them would outweigh all the losses from sick time and lost concentration. There’s got to be something else. I was thinking it had to do with someone in the leadership wanting to be the Big Brother. Or thinking that productivity would suddenly improve if everyone knows that the Big Brother is watching them.

      1. EPLawyer*

        It’s not the cost of the cubicle walls themselves. It’s the space they take up. Office space is rented by the square foot. If you need less square footage because no walls, doorways, etc. then you don’t need as much square feet for the office. It’s a nickel and dime cost saving measure, kinda like one ply TP.

        1. thankful for AAM.*

          From reading the comments I am confused. I thought open office and cubicle farm were pretty much the same thing. But reading here, it seems like some are treating them as the same thing, some are separating them. What exactly is an open office.

          In our “open office,” supervisors have 5 foot tall cubicle walls, those above them have 2 to a room offices, full time have their own desks, part timers hot desk it and all desks have computers but not all have phones. I am full time and dont have a phone for example, just the dept phone.

          For fun I’ll tell you about the time a coworker in a different department accused me of “evesdropping” on a conversation she had, about me, across the open office space. She had no idea I could hear her. It was a simple question about whether or not I was responsible for x task. When I followed up with her later tolet her know I did not do x task, she was shocked.

          1. Close Bracket*

            Cubicles have walls. Open offices do not. If you can make eye contact with every person in the office while seated, you are in an open office. Sometimes managers in open office companies have cubes or offices and only the individual contributors are in the open part.

      2. Gerard*

        The cost savings are big! It’s not just the cost of the cubicle walls – you can fit more people into the same space this way, so you don’t have to rent more square footage and the rental costs stay down. Money is almost certainly the biggest factor here.

        1. Mike C.*

          I hear this and yet I work in the largest building in the world by volume, see tons and tons of areas going unused and yet for some strange reason they still use open plan offices for programmers, engineers, finance and so on.

              1. DArcy*

                Largest building in the world by volume is a pretty specific claim which directly identifies the building in question. And given that said characteristic is mentioned on public tours, it’s definitely not the sort of behind the scenes detail that is only identifying to fellow employees.

          1. BenAdminGeek*

            At a company I worked at, each department paid a cost per square foot “rented” from the company, so there was an incentive to leave whole areas empty and crowd people into smaller sections of the office. It was such a dumb cost-cutting method, since the space sat unused and was only a savings on paper.

            1. Karen from Finance*

              I would like to have a word with that company’s finance department. Where did they assign that unused cost? How did they manage it? Did they not follow their cost going to inefficiencies? Why put such a system in place and not account for such an obvious blind spot? How?

              1. BenAdminGeek*

                I’m sure the head office had it accounted for somehow, but the incentive for each individual department remained to stay as jam-packed as possible, so it was so odd.

                1. Karen from Finance*

                  My point is what that “somehow” was – the first month you put this system in place, you’re bound to see this blind spot and how this is creating a messed up incentive. How did this fly under the radar? That is what I’m wondering.

                  These questions are literally my current job so I find it fascinating that that’s how they did it.

              2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                Right…that’s not how that works unless you’re leasing the unused space!

                I’m assuming they own the building or they’re even worse with numbers than we already think.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          That’s only because they do not measure the costs of no walls, such as lost time due to distraction, time spent figuring out where to have a private conversation and procuring that area, things that do not get done simply because there are too many people in too small a space.

          I supervised production work for many years. Just my observation, but the closer you pack people in then the quicker tempers flair. Suppose Jane and Sue are working side-by-side. How many times do you think Jane can accidentally bump Sue’s arm with her elbow before Sue gets ticked? The number is not that high, usually by the third time Sue is pretty vocal. While not scientific, I have observed this so many times that I just accept it as human nature.

          People have to have an empty (no other people) space around them. Some people need a larger area than others. But most people can agree on certain minimums and make that work.

          To continue on with my story of packing people in, days or weeks of this turned brutal. Tempers went way up, supervisors started acting to keep the peace. Peacemaking did not keep the peace, it went the opposite way like throwing gas on a fire, it became micromanaging. Tempers went even higher. The unhappiness spread like a flu bug, as supervisors complained to their boss, and their boss complained to Big Boss.

          People have to be spread out, period. This goes beyond being distracted, unable to hear and lack of concentration. Confined people can and will irritate the crap out of each other. It’s human nature. I have seen this and I know this, I am really puzzled why so many intelligent people could think an open office is a good thing. Unless, of course, they have their own private office.

          I am a big fan of asking the employee how the employee wants their area set up when that is possible. People know what works. A wise boss would listen and follow up on the best ideas. Many times what people come up with is not as expensive as one would think and probably pretty cost effective.

          1. Pandop*

            I have always worked in open offices of various sizes – from 6 people upwards, and I have never been so close to anyone that I was bumping elbows with them. Offices and production lines differ in this way, as most desks do keep people physically out of people’s immediate space (for example if my neighbour and I both stretched our arms out to their full extent, then our fingertips might, just, touch)

      3. Mediamaven*

        I think you are way overthinking it. Not every boss has some nefarious intent. It’s about saving money and aesthetics.

        1. Where’s my coffee?*

          Exactly. Have worked as a leader in two places that did this. I was firmly in the “no way and here’s why” camp at both places, but of the leaders who supported it, none was doing it out of some evil intent. Misguided and counterproductive, but not evil.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Hey, I don’t consider the “their productivity will skyrocket if they all know they’re being watched by everyone” sentiment evil. Misguided and counterproductive, yes.

            1. Where’s my coffee?*

              I think that sentiment transcends “misguided” and goes straight to horrible boss town :)

        2. Karen from Finance*

          I don’t think that the idea that people will control each other’s productivity if they can see each other’s screens is “nefarious” from the perspective of a boss, per se. From the company’s perspective, unproductive time is also a loss of money, and it makes sense that they would try to minimize it. The problem is that this is misguided, as it doesn’t work – it just creates more tension, which can create MORE productivity.

          But definitely, the idea that some folk think of open floor plan as some way to get employees to control each other is certainly not new and many people in management circles believe it.

          1. thankful for AAM.*

            In my open office plan, the guy next to me spends his off desk time on his cell phone. I mean all his time. Idk if my presence is supposed to inspire him to work or if I am supposed to tell our supervisor but as it is an open floor plan and he is visible, supervisor can see it so I figure it is not for me to address.

            1. Karen from Finance*

              Yeah I think the idea is that because people are aware they are being seen they are going to be more productive out of shame. This highly disregards how people are notoriously shameless.

              1. Allonge*

                Also it might work – for like a day or so. And then you are still the same person as before, and it stops working. It’s almost as if management needs to be done by humans, not by shame or cameras…

      4. Ellen N.*

        You are correct at least in my experience. I worked at an entertainment business management firm. When I was hired the account managers had offices which they shared with their assistant. The firm moved and opted for cubicles. The partners didn’t disclose the change to cubicles to the employees until we moved in as they knew how much ire it would generate.

        One of the partners was obsessed with his concern that employees would be slacking off. He even wanted us to take birthday cake to our desks to eat because he didn’t want us to be unproductive during the time it took to eat a slice of cake. He loved the cubicles because he believed that he could see if employees were working or not. He was wrong. The employees who slacked off still slacked off. The productive employees were less productive because of all the distraction.

        Worst of all, I literally had to whisper when I was on the phone or I’d get complaints about the noise. As much of the job was on the phone I had a constant sore throat due to whispering.

      5. Mel*

        Some employers mistakenly believe that it promotes team building and collaboration – in addition to saving money.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Oh man, that just reminds me of playing the game Panoptic. It’s just nerve wracking, running around with the Eye of Sauron staring down on you, waiting for you to slip up so it can vaporize you.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I had friends who worked for a now-disgraced judge who literally created his own office panopticon to monitor them, and he was definitely getting off on the thrill of exerting power over them. The whole situation was gross.

    4. Old and fat*

      For some companies it might have to do with cheapness but for most I think they are just caught up in the trend. It looks cooler than a bunch of cubicles and they people who approve it don’t have to deal with it. After all, the executives who approve these open offices exempt themselves from a open office.

      The place where I work is a Fortune 500 – very trending – spent a lot on renovations. It looks great and has a lot of “huddle rooms” and open group areas where no one hardly sits. The space they save by cramming everyday workers into small desks is lost to these group areas that just aren’t functional.

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    Sigh. I hate them. But our corporate masters save so much on rent that they’ll never go away.

    I’d love to see the offices of the holding company that owns my company. If they have offices with walls, I’ll scream and possibly burn the place down.

    1. Sleepytime Tea*

      At my last job we were legitimately running out of space and additionally the rent on one of our buildings had become insane, so we weren’t shocked when they announced there would be a remodel to an open office plan and one building would be replaced with another in a much lower rent area.

      What I hated most about our open office plan was the lack of a filing cabinet. They gave us one, but it was weird and not even 11″ wide which meant you couldn’t hang anything in it. I’m personally all about electronic copies but there were things we did need to keep sometimes and the oddly shaped cabinets made no sense.

      We did have focus rooms which I thought were pretty nice. When the easily loudest lady on our floor complained when I and a few other coworkers were having a conversation at a reasonable volume I invited her to use one. That was a bonus.

      But yeah, did the execs have a new office floor plan? No. They had total remodels of their personal offices in our remaining expensive downtown location. Our company was semi-public, and I was reading through financials one day, and also learned about the private plane.

      1. Midge*

        Every open plan office should have focus rooms, IMO! That was the first question I asked when I was offered my current job in an open plan office. They don’t have them, and I took the job anyway. But man, would my job satisfaction be way higher if I had somewhere quiet to work.

  2. Anonymous Educator*

    At my office, everybody except executive level staff are in the open

    I think this part really gets at the heart of the problem with open offices. If they’re so great for collaboration and getting things done, why don’t the C-level staffers also go into the open offices instead of having their own private offices? It’s okay to say “We’re too cheap to get offices or even cubicles for you all,” but companies need to stop lying about how it’s actually good for workers. Workers see straight through that bull.

    1. Mike C.*

      That’s one of the thing I find so frustrating about modern business culture – the constant lying.

      1. panic at places other than discos*

        I really feel like there’s a basic leadership tenant that gets lost: don’t make your underlings do things you won’t do. If you want to shove your underlings into an open office, well, CEO, you first.

        Sure, sure, the CEO has to do stuff that requires privacy and confidentiality. So does everyone else.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This. Nobody believes in the special benefit afforded only to junior staff and not senior staff.

        2. Environmental Compliance*

          Unfortunately for my office, our parent company’s leadership (owner, c-suite, etc) all work in an open office setting. They’re a trading company and like to think everything works like a trade floor. They’re on a kick right now to implement an open office to “improve collaboration” at my company right now, and don’t seem to understand that we’re *not* a trading company. We’re a manufacturing facility.

          1. Mike C.*

            Given the open nature of your workplace, you should ensure that your executives are wearing the proper PPE at ALL TIMES.


            1. Environmental Compliance*

              I do! But within the admin office (which is the only place they’re attempting to implement this, not in the offices within the plant…) we don’t require PPE.

              I’ve been waiting for the ceiling tiles to fall in over the area where they want to move everyone so I can point out the (recurring) water leak and how possibly there’s black mold now and gosh we should just rebuild the building because that’s a human health hazard, ya know.

              Plus the execs work for the parent company off-site…some from their home offices. Logic!

        3. karou*

          When my company moved to open concept at first they said everyone would have an open desk, including the executives and CEO. Then the floor plans were announced and guess who had offices? :/

        4. Mediamaven*

          Do you honestly think that the CEO has the same level of need for privacy that an entry level person does?

          1. Mike C.*

            You don’t have to have the “same” need for privacy (or need for concentration for that matter) to have a need for privacy in general.

            1. panic at places other than discos*

              This. Things that come across my desk and I need to talk about out loud on various calls:
              1) Private medical information covered by laws regarding patient privacy, in a place where employees in other locations might be OUR patients
              2) Patient and employee social security numbers
              3) Payroll info, including when someone is getting a raise and if someone isn’t, as well as “Bob’s been having paycheck problems, we need to resolve this ASAP”
              4) Making advance plans for maternity leave, before that person has told the office that she’s pregnant

              Etc etc.

            2. Sylvan*

              I used to handle incoming calls, mail, and many emails for a newspaper. This often included things that people would prefer to keep as private as possible.

              So I had to have a phone conversation with a woman whose son had been murdered, where everyone could hear the conversation, for example. I had people calling about an ongoing series of crimes who were TERRIFIED that their reports would fall into the wrong hands and lead to retribution. I also opened a letter that contained a photograph of a man’s amputated leg in front of people, so uh, there was that.

              (Pretty much all of my dysfunctional job stories are about this place. My other comments on this thread are informed by this place.)

              The editors, publisher, and other “higher ups” had the privacy that they needed. But the rest of us could have used a little bit of space from each other, too. It would have been nice if I had a private space. If not, at least if the reporters should have, so that they didn’t have to hear each other’s discussions and phone conversations constantly. Maybe if the people who chose to give us an open office had to work in it for a little while, they would have understood.

        5. Karen from Finance*

          At my small-to-medium tech company, the CEO shares an office with the three other executives. They share two large desks. It looks very hip, very modern, but it’s not very practical when they’re always commenting on each other’s meetings.

        6. fromscratch*

          The CEO of my company two jobs ago looooooved to work from a table in the break room. He didn’t have an assigned office and only came in once every two weeks, so he got to “be one of the people” while not really dealing with the inconvenience of the daily non-assigned desk open floor plan working situation.

          1. Gatomon*

            OOO that reminds me of an awful exboss! He had an office, but whenever he made a change that was bound to go over negatively, he’d decide to have his lunch down in the employee break room that day (he never ate there otherwise). Our lunches were scheduled and we weren’t allowed to eat at our cubes, so it was either your car or the break room with exboss if you wanted to eat. We were all woefully underpaid so sack lunches were common at that job. I actually ate tortillas with peanut butter on them because bread was too expensive sometimes.

    2. Mediamaven*

      It’s not being too cheap, it’s that not all businesses can afford an office for everyone. And senior people get offices because they’ve earned it and because they likely have more confidential conversations. It’s not bull it’s just reality. No ones trying to be deceitful.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        If you say “We do this because it promotes collaboration” and the reason is “It’s cheap” then yes, it’s deceitful.

      2. Sylvan*

        If you can’t afford a cube wall to separate people’s desks, you’re in deep shit, sorry to say.

        And yes, hiding either cheapness or a dire financial situation from employees by presenting the situation as somehow good for them is deceitful.

        1. Sylvan*

          I used to work in a place like this. It’s not normal, healthy, or sustainable, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a crab in a bucket.

        2. Pandop*

          Or maybe you truly don’t have the space. I don’t think cubes are as common in the UK anyway, but space is a real issue in a lot of buildings that weren’t originally designed as offices. Even in a room that was built as office space, such as the one I work in, there is no room for cubes.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        It’s not being too cheap, it’s that not all businesses can afford

        It’s not being cheap, it’s just being cheap? Got it.

        And no one is saying anything about an office for everyone. It’s cardboard walls we are talking about.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        “It’s not being too cheap, it’s that not all businesses can afford an office for everyone.”

        Isn’t that the definition of being cheap? If you can’t afford the right set up for basic operations, and you’re not a start-up, then you have bigger solvency problems.

        1. NaoNao*

          I parse it a little differently

          “It’s not being cheap *by choice*, it’s all we can afford”

      5. CaliforniaHeavy*

        Sorry, if you have to pinch pennies on even cubes? You are a drain circler, or you are managed by cargo cult fools.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Excellent point. I can recall only one former employer with an across-the-board open office concept which, thankfully, didn’t last long. Each open floor plan had long, wavy tables as work stations – designed by a feng shui artist, just for us, but that’s another story. We all sat wherever we could find a spot, but Managers and Directors were assigned ‘end spaces’ on these open work stations. VPs and C-levels had desks in the corners or on the perimeter of these open floor plans, and were given Privacy Panels. They looked like half a tent on wheels, and could be swiveled in front of a desk. Of course, these nylon panels blocked sound, and no one would overhear sensitive, confidential information.

      Ha ha, of course I’m joking. We dropped the open office concept because too many people were blabbing about confidential information they overheard. We got our cubicles and offices back, and the C-suite agreed to some WAH arrangements to save on leasing more floors in the same building. What an expensive failed experiement…but at least, everyone was out in the open. So to speak.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        That was probably the key–forcing managers and C-level to experience the thrill of the open office with its rolling nylon privacy panels.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Exactly. A few of the C-levels even publicly commented that OFPs sound so much better in theory than practice. At least they were honest about it.

    4. Triplestep*

      We (designers) regularly encourage C-level to go open with dedicated meetings spaces. The problem is their lack of imagination more than anything else.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It interests me greatly as well. All the open offices I’ve interviewed for, the owner or execs are actually right in there with the troops. But I’m also only ever aware of small businesses and assume mega corps still have towers they lock the mighty powers away in.

      1. SG*

        Shoutout from a mega corp – our execs are open office! Most of our floors are secure floors though, so you wouldn’t be able to wander around. Despite everyone’s desire to try to sneak onto my floor (the HR floor)…

    6. Wired Wolf*

      At my job, HR and payroll are the only ones with their own offices…well, there’s one real office and a conference room. HR used to be in the office, then he was relegated to the conference room when Payroll decided they wanted it.

      Everything else is open-plan, which means that even though my manager’s computer is the only one set up to print price tags I often can’t use it because someone else (not even our department) is on it. Each department is supposed to have their own desk, but in practice that isn’t happening.

      While open-plan drives me insane, I have been privy to some interesting information that I’m probably not supposed to know…

    7. SG*

      Add this to reasons I like my company: the entire C suite moved first to giant open offices. I don’t care that their office is bigger than my desk (we hot desk which isn’t my favorite), but they went open plan before anyone below them did.

    8. CaliforniaHeavy*

      This. At TeapotU the managers and above suddenly are getting offices, but not the ICs and Team Leads. IOTW, the people who do actual work get all the distractions.

  3. CR*

    I thought I hated having a cubicle at my old job. Now that I’m in an open space, I would kill to go back to a cubicle. Sigh.

    1. The Cardinal*

      Sadly I shared a cubicle with a noisy (e.g., turned on his radio to a god-awful station upon arrival and left it on despite being elsewhere half of the day), ill-mannered (e.g., smacked his datgum lips while eating) , clueless colleague at my old job so it might as well have been open office.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I had a coworker sitting on the other side of a cube wall from me once who physically removed a part of the wall between us to make a window, and would poke her head through the window into my cube multiple times a day, like a deranged cuckoo clock, to ask me something. It’s embarrassing to admit how happy I was when this person got fired.

        As for noisy coworkers, another time I sat behind a wall from a really nice, really polite colleague, whose only issue was that, every fifteen minutes or so, I’d hear her say “excuse me”. All day every day. Talked about it with someone once and they said, “oh didn’t you know it? Bobette says excuse me every time she burps or farts”. At least I could not smell anything, so thanks for that!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Like a deranged cuckoo clock.

          This almost sounds like a dare to see how obnoxious you can get until you are fired.

        2. The Cardinal*

          OMG – another “truth is stranger than fiction” story! I would have been seriously contemplating dusting their spaces with itching powder (actually, I considered doing that to my colleague)!

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I’m now crafting it into an office espionage story, where people have cut shortcuts through the cubes so they can sneak in and out without being visible walking along the aisles.

            1. TardyTardis*

              I’m the employee, like Wally in Dilbert, who needs to wear the cap with the high rod so nobody runs into me when I turn a corner….

        3. Former Employee*

          “…like a deranged cuckoo clock…

          I literally laughed out loud!

          Plus, to my knowledge, I’ve never had the kind of wall that could be partially destroyed in this fashion. The ones I remember were padded, but they were steel (or something else metal) underneath the padding.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I had someone call me about an open position the other day and their big selling point was “we each have our own cubicle”. What have we come to.

    3. panic at places other than discos*

      Yeah. You don’t appreciate having 3 people shoved into a cubicle together until you’re all out in the open and have nothing at all.


      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My first and second office jobs in Home Country were 15-20 people in an open space. When I saw my cubicle on my fist day at my first US job, I was so excited, everyone probably thought I was not right in the head. I’d never known until that point that cubicles existed.

    4. Need a Beach*

      I would not mind a small space if I could customize it to my needs. But no, the High Priest of Fuzzy Gray Walls wants every cubicle to look the same, so I can’t have monitor shields that block glare and stop my headaches. Instead I wear sunglasses and a hat, like an idiot villain in a children’s cartoon.

      1. Where’s my coffee?*

        Ask for an accommodation under ADA if you’re headaches are severe (sounds like they are). A monitor shield is a very reasonable medical accommodation.

      2. Hodie-Hi*

        I once had a desk–in cubical land–directly in front of huge windows. Summer mornings until about 11 am, the Sun was in my face while I struggled to peer at my monitor. Until my boss won the fight with finance to install proper shades, I wore a huge golf visor.

        Ironically, finance used to work in that area. We wondered how they tolerated it, unless they were never in the office on summer mornings. The same people also did not want to pay to repair the air conditioning in a server room, in the summer, where daytime highs over 100 F are frequent.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Every job I had, a window cube was considered to be a perk. You had to work at a place for years to get one. The windows always had shades that could be pulled down, though! It is really bizarre not to have one and to expect someone to work next to a shadeless window!

    5. SignalLost*

      I just got an actual office (and the way the space is laid out there is NO chance of going open office). It’s a huge reason I’m staying at a place I’m pretty unhappy with. Most equivalent positions would be open office, which I’ve done and hate.

      1. Another Manic Monday*

        There’s no chance for open office layout at my workplace either. We have hard-walled cubicles connected to the outer walls and circling around the building.

    6. Veronica Sawyer*

      Oh man, I would kill to go back to a cubicle, too! If I had known then that completely open offices would take over I would have appreciated it more! Visual privacy is a thing of the past now. :(

  4. Introvert girl*

    I love the work I do, but hate the place I have to do it. There are around 100-150 of us in one big open office. It’s so hard to concentrate. Even after I was allowed to move to a “quieter” section. I have my earphones in, but still hear people talking all around me. I think that my productivity is at 40-50%. And the worst part is that the type of work I do doesn’t need to be done in an office, but can be easily done at home. Most people working in my line of work (translating tea pot information) work from home. I just don’t get it why management things this is a good idea? If they would let half of us work from home they would get much better outcome. Recently I asked for part time home office which was denied. An occasional day or so isn’t a problem, but it can’t become a habit. Pffff

    1. Windchime*

      That’s the way my workplace is, too. We are allowed one WFH day per week, for which I am very grateful. My boss is very flexible and will allow another WFH day for the flimsiest of reason (again, I am grateful). But my work could be done 100% remote and it would literally save me hundreds of dollars per month (not to mention over 8 hours per week of commute time). My boss would be all for it, but the people above her say that we can’t, because it would be unfair to those whose jobs require them to be on-site.

      I love my boss, my job, my coworkers, my benefits. But I still find myself watching the job boards, looking for something remote. Because it’s 2019, not 1980 where we all needed to sit by the mainframe.

      1. Introvert girl*

        This. I’m also looking at job offers for remote work. I think if it wasn’t that one year project I did from home for another company, I wouldn’t know how well and accurate I can work remotely. I plan my time better, get more things done, am less stressed and less tired. You know, there was a moment when I thought I might be on the spectrum because of how open space offices exhaust me and make me feel. But I’ve started to realise I’m not the one with the problem.

      2. CaliforniaHeavy*

        Same here. We move to the open plan pit in March, so I will be in the market for a remote job soon after that…

    2. Trillian*

      If our office redesign ends with open offices, my cunning plan is to leave town and go full time remote.

  5. Aveline*

    Let me add two other horrors of open offices:

    (1) Spreads contagious illness much more quickly
    (2) Makes the lives up of people with allergies, intolerances, migraines, etc. much worse.

      1. JustaTech*

        And there’s no where to hide in case of an active shooter event. (It makes me incredibly sad that we had active shooter training at work, but such are these times.)

        1. CaliforniaHeavy*

          This. It scares the beejeebus out of me. Open plans are anxiety inducing.

          The last one I worked in gave me pneumonia for the first time in my life.

        1. Former Employee*

          The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory also had locked exit doors so the employees couldn’t sneak out during regular work hours. As a result, when the fire started, they couldn’t get out of the area, let alone flee the building.

          1. DArcy*

            At the trial, the owner of the factory admitted that locking the employees in was over less than $25 worth of estimated net employee theft of shirtwaists.

            The building got fire safety upgrades after the incident. The Triangle Shirtwaist company responded by moving to a different building that didn’t have equivalent upgrades. When caught personally locking employees in at the new building, the owner was fined $200 for violation of the fire code but the judge apologized to him for the unreasonably harsh punishment.

    1. KT*

      So true! We went to open offices about 10 months ago. The flu is running rampant through my office. Entire departments have been taken out because we’re so close.

      (currently wearing headphones in my open office)

      1. CaliforniaHeavy*

        At least you can wear headphones. I get ear infections if I wear them for more than an hour a day.

    2. Loux in Canada*

      In regards to 2, it’s the worst :( I have chronic migraines and despite the scent-free policy in my building, people still sometimes use scents that give me headaches (and no one ever takes it seriously, because “lol those people are just sensitive”. I FUCKING WISH. I hate being 22 and having an old-lady problem ). I mean, we work in quads, so it’s not *quite* open-office, but my particular team’s corner is basically more open-office than the rest of the office. And people in the department next to us with cubicles are constantly standing over the walls and talking. SIGHHHHH.

      1. KR*

        Ugh I feel you on migraines. Me and another co-worker only like to turn on half of the lights in our office as they are unshielded fluorescence and way too bright. Another one of our co-workers seems incapable of remembering this and always turns on both lights. meanwhile when I’m in the office alone I like to use a lamp on my desk and turn off all the lights like a gremlin. How lovely it would be if I had my own office and I could just light it with lamps and soft lighting and never use overhead lights.

        1. MechanicalPencil*

          That is my dreammmmm. I have a cubicle. It could be worse. But the overhead fluorescent lighting is a nightmare, particularly when coupled with the monitor lighting. Or if I could forego lamps and just use sunlight? Le gasp.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Let me add a third: You have to listen to people make rude, irritating noises. All. Day. Long. Slurping, open-mouthed chewing, lip smacking, obsessive throat clearing, foot tapping, nail biting…gah.

      I recently took a job that requires regular face time in the office, and it’s driving me scooters.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Should have said we have cubicles large enough for 6 or 8 people. And the guy who sits behind me…argh.

    4. cncx*

      i know a place that switched to open office and for the first six months everyone was sick. they kept passing stuff around.

  6. Michelle*

    I’ve been working in a cubicle farm for 10+ years and it’s awful. I’ve seen a sliding-door type cubicle attachment that would give you a bit of privacy but I was told no, even if I purchased it myself. I’m not doing that would be frowned upon, but just the illusion of privacy would help.

    1. TardyTardis*

      At old ExJob, some poor person (not me) got the cubicle by the back door all the smokers sneaked out of nonstop during the day, even though they weren’t supposed to. She rigged up a blanket door to keep from freezing.

  7. Anomalous Cat*

    At a previous job with an open office they decided too many mistakes were being made so the headphones had to go. It was amazing how distracting it was just hearing the ordinary sounds around the office until I got used to it.

      1. Apologies*

        They probably think that the music/podcasts that people were listening to were too distracting? Sounds like my parents who couldn’t believe I was getting any work done in high school if I had earbuds in. Sorry Mom, it’s less distracting than listening to your phone conversations downstairs.

      2. Frozen Ginger*

        There are some people who are distracted by music while working and erroneously assume everyone else is the same.

        1. Falling Diphthong*


          I am distracted by spoken words when working with written words. The spoken words can be NPR, music with lyrics… or the person talking loudly on the phone next to me.

          I am missing the logic of “the noise inside the headphones must be distracting, we should replace it with noise from outside the headphones.”

          1. Julia*

            Right? That’s what classical music or white noise generators are here for! But no, make me listen to Jane yelling into her phone while I’m trying to come up with a perfect wording for a highly technical translation, sure.

        2. The Cardinal*

          This would be me although I don’t have a problem with music playing IF folks use headphones AND don’t annoy the heck out of everyone else (meaning “me”) by singing along loud enough to be heard in the key of “flat” – just sayin’!

          That said, I accept that some people believe they can be as or more productive with whatever sounds they prefer playing in the background, but I am and will always probably remain skeptical.

        3. Pipe Organ Guy*

          I get distracted by music, because I’m a musician and I’m constantly picking it apart. As it is, there’s a constant low-level background in my mind of earworms, whole pieces, snippets, improvisation ideas, even when I’m working on job stuff that has nothing to do with music. At least I’ve been in an actual office for a couple of years in which I can have music if I need to hear something work-related, or if I’m entering music notation on the computer. That’s heaven to me after years in the semi-open main parish office, with the loud bookkeeper, the homeless or needy folks coming to us for help, or any number of other distractions. Now I’m in the basement of the church, the perfect place for an introvert.

    1. Amber Rose*

      The silence with the muffled sounds of someone doing things is actually more distracting. It’s like being in a horror movie. The quiet is oppressive and the sounds seem so much louder and upsetting when they happen. My shoulders just keep going further up around my ears as time goes on, and then I get tension headaches.

      It was so bad over Christmas break when 75% of the staff were gone that I ended up playing music on my phone for my office mates, just to break it up a bit. Fortunately they didn’t mind my taste in music.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Too many mistakes => you’re being distracted => we are banning the only thing that has the capability to keep you from getting distracted. Sounds logical. Some days I think Catbert really is the decisionmaker for every office.

    3. Where’s my coffee?*

      One of the places I worked with open office didn’t allow headphones because it gave the “perception” of being unapproachable toward one another. Ugh and ugh.

    4. Mockingdragon*

      uuugh…yeah, I’ve learned that when working on solo projects that take my focus, I can’t do it without music. Quiet, lyric-less music, but without it my mind wanders so far and so fast. Having something to listen to takes up the part of my brain that wants to be distracted by other stuff and keeps it busy. I largely tune out whatever I’m listening to but without it I’m useless.

  8. panic at places other than discos*

    Alison, thank you for having this and on Slate. The more public the ire is, the more people become aware that it actively hurts productivity and morale and employee health, and the only thing it saves is money (but that money is offset by how much less gets done and the worse quality)… well, maybe it’s too much to hope they put up some walls. But I must live in hope at least one day a week.

      1. CaliforniaHeavy*

        In fact, even in high rent locations like San Francisco, you lose more money in lost productivity than you save in space rental. Yes, I ran the numbers, but no one in management at these places listens – the sunk cost fallacy rules.

  9. Amber Rose*

    I love my cubicle. Is that weird? But the walls are high and even though they don’t block sound, I don’t have to feel paranoid that someone is staring over my shoulder. That feeling is far, far worse than dealing with a little noise. If we moved to an open format, I would quit. We’re not allowed to wear headphones because my boss hates trying to get people’s attention, and that combined with the feeling of people watching me would be intolerable.

    Also I need the storage space. I can stick all kinds of reminders and schedules and contact lists to my cube walls, and it’s really helpful.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, I’d go bonkers without a calendar on my wall.

      In an OldJob that had an open plan, I was once chewed out by a coworker whose desk was next to mine, because I needed to roll my chair over to someone else’s desk and, in doing so, my chair lightly brushed against her children’s art, that she had taped to the sides of her desk. At about knee height. That was the best we could do to personalize our work areas.

    2. Mimi Me*

      I love my cubicle!! My boss doesn’t work in my branch so I wear headphones….though I wear them only in one ear as I use a headset for the other ear. It blocks out SOOOOO much noise. I LOVE it. And you’re right…the walls are great for displaying things I need for work as well as photos and decoration. :) It’s SO colorful and fun.

    3. Even Steven*

      Add me to the cube fan list. Last job – had my own office, but shutting the door to drown out the din was frowned upon. Walls and a door were no help here. Now I somehow lucked out to get a library-hush-pin-drop quiet cube room where nobody speaks and even crunchy snacks are discouraged for their distraction factor. I kid you not.

      How did they pull this off? The higher-ups very smartly seated all of us bean counters together, and we silently crunch numbers all day in our high-wall cubicles, decorated to our tastes. Down the very long hallway, the sales and marketing and HR cubes are one big rowdy party. Keeping the “talk on the phone” groups away from the “shush – need to concentrate” groups is a thoughtful solution. I have never seen it work as well as at my new job, and I hope to be there for a good long time.

      1. Windchime*

        I wish more people would figure this out. My current job is pretty good, except that the developers sit next to a group who apparently have a lot of downtime because they roll their chairs around and talk all day. Headphones with white noise work for me in this situation. In a previous job, they had us sitting next to customer service people who were on the phone all day or else being rowdy and loud. It was almost impossible to concentrate.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I think this is probably key.

        We don’t have open plan but we do have some shared rooms.

        There is one group who I would find it pretty much impossible to share with, they do a lot on the phone, and tend to be pretty loud, and there are lots of loud conversations and non-work related chat.
        But they are very productive and it works for them. In fact they all resisted when we were doing some internal rearrangements and offered them separate rooms.
        In contrast, the cashiers department like it quiet, so they’re now in a smaller room than they were, but further away from the noisier people, and with some changes in process so that people don’t need to go into their room so frequently.
        It seem to work.

      3. writerson*

        That would help so much. In my last job, we were 100% open office, with the writers sitting among the graphic designers. Completely different workstyles and needs. The designers were fine chit-chatting as they worked, but the writers would go hide in a conference room to concentrate until we got kicked out by management saying we weren’t “part of the team.”

      4. coffee*

        I was once part of a “lots of talking” workgroup and they moved us into an open plan, no cubicle office space… right next to the accountants. I felt so bad for them.

    4. Mockingdragon*

      Point! Especially as a new employee, I have sticky notes and reminders and notices EVERYWHERE. Moving from a tall cube to a short cube with a new position once was hard enough, moving from a cube to a desk with no walls would be awful. Even better, my roommate’s office just moved to an open office with no consistent seating. They can’t leave anything at the desk they used, they have to wrap it all back up into lockers. How can you do anything like that?

  10. Nay*

    I work in an open office, I mean, I don’t love it, I do wish I had my own office, but it’s honestly not that bad. For me, at least, I work on a special team where it really does help us work together. Noise is really not that bad; the HVAC system always has the fan on so there’s a nice white noiseish overhead; in fact, it’s because of that I can have trouble hearing someone who doesn’t sit right next to me, and everyone’s phone voice is pretty much fine. I think part of this is it’s an office that can hold 120 with <40 in it…if we were at capacity I can imagine it'd be pretty intolerable.

    I will say that I'm not a huge fan of the fact that there's literally nowhere to take a private phone call except maybe a conference room, but all except 1 of the conference rooms have glass walls so there is a general lack of privacy…but otherwise it's not as bad as I thought it would be.

    1. Hello, I’d like to report my boss*

      I’m not terribly bothered by open plans either. If I need to concentrate I can use earplugs or headphones plus white noise.

      I think because I’ve almost always worked that way I’ve got used to tuning out most noise.

      The one time I had my own office and it was isolated and uncollaborative for me.

      1. JustaTech*

        When my office-mate moved out of our shared office I lasted maybe 2 months before I asked to be moved to a cube too. Not only was I missing out on important (and unimportant but interesting) work conversations, it was just plain lonely.

        That said, I can’t *wait* for our office renovations to be done and move back to a proper sized cube and for my boss to get his office back!

        1. Julia*

          Yeah, when I lived alone in a foreign country, work was the only time I met people. (I’m not usually that much of a loner, but there were special circumstances.) I wouldn’t have minded a cube or open office, in fact, I would have preferred it over sharing an office with my co-worker, who hated my guts and crititized everything I did (I walked too loudly!) when she herself had the TV on constantly, slammed all the doors, and yelled into the phone.

          Now I work in an open office and the only things that bother me are a) no privacy when I want to take a quick break for my brain and slack off on AaM and b) my co-workers slamming their cabinet doors and drawers, a sound nothing can drown out because it causes vibrations. Ugh.

      2. Tau*

        I don’t mind them either. I’ve never actually worked anywhere other than an open plan, but I feel I know myself well enough to say that a private office would not be great for me: isolated, lonely, too easy to get sidetracked. And I work best with a moderate amount of background noise – I used to go to coffee shops to study during uni – so an open plan with a bunch of people working or talking at a low volume is perfect.

      3. Jen RO*

        I haaated being in an actual office after spending a couple of years in an open-plan space. I ended up in the office by chance (it was the only free desk in the company) and, even though the guy I shared it with was nice, I felt extremely isolated, especially given that I was new. When the guy left and desks opened up in the open space area, I requested to be moved and it felt great.

    2. media monkey*

      i’ve never worked in an office that wasn’t open plan (damn trendy agencies!). when we got our new building, they built tiny rooms for conference calls and small meetings as well as all the normal size meeting rooms. and all of our bosses are open plan too. HR have a couple of meeting rooms for confidential meetings but they don’t sit inside.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        ditto to all that.
        funnily enough office noises don’t bother me too much any more (20+ years of ONLY open plan really can acclimatise you), although there are the occasional noises that still set me off. it’s the interruptions from my trainees / team mates and boss that bother me more, and that would still happen if we were in cubicles, or office mates (because individual offices would never happen). can’t even be called collaboration – ours isn’t a role that requires collaboration (or even that much specific team work) – it’s me knowing stuff that they don’t (yes, even the boss).

    3. Mary*

      Yeah, my best ever work environment was an open plan office with about 25-30 seated in groups of four. Second best was a large office with four people in, third best was a tiny office with five people, worst is an office with two (but the other one works different days, so it’s usually just me) and the open plan office with cubicle walls between each desk, which has a really low ceiling and is just dark and depressing.

      I’d always choose open plan over private, though!

  11. Dame Judi Brunch*

    At my work, several locations have been remodeled. Once we saw the open office plans for our location, we pushed back as a group, and even had a manager’s support, still no luck. Upper management had a counter for every argument we made, which made me think they got push back from every office but didn’t care and prepared canned responses.
    All the problems that we foretold in the open office prophecy came true, and we are all miserable.

      1. Dame Judi Brunch*

        That’s right, the upper management have offices. Most of them have glass walls, because transparency, but still, walls with doors.
        The rows of desks right outside of these offices are hell. You think someone is watching you all day.

          1. Dame Judi Brunch*

            Yes!!! And everything is so close together too, so not only do you get the sensation that you’re being watched, you also get the “it’s right behind you” chills.
            I was able to move to a desk opposite a wall. Heaven!

  12. Frozen Ginger*

    My office is trying to move towards “open concept”. Supposedly its supposed to “attract” talent. Yeah, a little correlation/causation issue there. Silicon Valley doesn’t have the best because of their open-office plans; it’s literally anything else.

    They tried to get my section to pilot it by moving us to one space instead of being spread out amongst others in a cubicle farm. I was willing to give it a shot, but they were going to put us in a windowless room. You expect me to give up my personal space AND natural light? HELL NO. Thankfully they asked us first and 75% of us said “No, not under any circumstances”.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      “I don’t care about money, the health plan, time off, stock options, or professional development opportunities–just give me that sweet sweet open office space.”

    2. hbc*

      What’s weird is that I have some anecdata that points to it being true. My husband has a very techy start-up that just moved from being crammed into too small a space to a large building that came with decent cube/divider thingies. They involved the current staff in the decision about whether to keep the existing furniture or put up new stuff, and the staff opted for…open office. It’s just a sea of desks with monitors and very, very little privacy.

      Maybe it’s because they’re outside of Silicon Valley and feel like that’s what they should like if they’re real start-up geeks? I just don’t get it.

    3. JustaTech*

      Didn’t Apple put in offices in their new headquarters (the giant navel or whatever they call it)? Because the whole open-office thing wasn’t working for them?

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      Unfortunately for us, something like 80% of the tech industry has open-office plans. If you’re looking for a job that doesn’t, you could be looking a long time.

      We moved offices, and we had a six-month gap where we were in temporary space. Each engineering team had a room to itself, with WALLS and NOBODY SNEAKING UP BEHIND YOU. Ah, it was a magical six months of serene productivity.

      1. Windchime*

        That’s the thing that really bugs me. I am one of the people who was quoted in Alison’s article. When there was an important thing with a deadline, the higher-ups moved heaven and earth to get my coding partner and I a quiet, distraction-free place to work for three weeks. We got an unbelievable amount of work done and it was heaven to be in a quiet room with just the two of us working. I’m not saying we should have always had a private office; that’s practically unheard of for developers. But it seems like they could have somehow sectioned our group off and at least tried to make it more distraction free, rather than sitting between the project managers (always on the phone) and the application support people (always on the phone or horsing around).

        1. JustaTech*

          I would think that part of setting up any office, but especially an open office would be to look at who spends the most time on the phone and who is never on the phone and put these groups as far apart as possible.

          At my husband’s last job there was a space crunch but everyone agreed that it was better to be a bit snug than to put the developers in the same room as the sales team.

    5. The New Wanderer*

      One startup company that I interviewed with had the weirdest explanation for going with an open-office + butts-in-seats environment. The startup’s CEO had left a very successful software company whose employees used to get their own offices (not sure if this is still the case, but it was for this guy), and he chose to follow the “Silicon Valley” line of thinking that successful startups have open offices, therefore open offices –> success through collaboration, which was also the reasoning behind having no WFH options. As has often been pointed out, many many more startups die than succeed, and almost all of those were open office plans (because no money).

      But the confounding part is this guy made his fortune at a company that succeeded long before any SV startup with its employees in their own private offices!

    6. jk*

      Silicon Valley doesn’t even have the best though… I mean who are we trying to kid? I worked at a satellite office of a ‘Silicon Valley’ company and the head office was terrible and couldn’t relate to people outside of their part of the country.

      So many failed start ups and too much flash and spending money. Companies full of managers with no experience who think they are a Zuckerberg in the making. Of course they aren’t going to know how to lay an office out.

  13. Whoop*

    My sample size may be far too small, but I’ve never had a cubicle in any office job here in the UK, nor do I know of anyone who has ever had one. Cubicles always seem like such a US thing.

    I did not really enjoy working in an open plan office in my last job. Now I work in an office shared with my immediate team, and I like that a lot. We get on well, can just plug into our headphones and work as needed, but it’s nice to be able to quickly ask/answer a question without having to get up.

    1. Amber Rose*

      We have that plus cubes. My department sits in one huge office, but we all have our own spaces. It’s nice. I can still talk to them normally but I have privacy.

    2. Everdene*

      I came here to say the same thing! I’ve worked in many, many offices in the UK and never had a cube and most of them have been open plan. On the couple of occassions I had my own office I found it quite isolating.

      Around 15 months ago I moved my team to a new open plan office (the previous space had 3 small offices and the rest was desks slotted in randomly. Each of the team have, uninvited, told me how much more they appreciate the new layout. There is equality within the team and much better collaboration and information sharing. While in someways as a manager it would be helpful to have privacy, when I need to do 121s or have private phone calls I just move into another space.

      My theory is that as a ‘small island’ with lots of old buildings the UK doesn’t have the space to give everyone identikit cubes so we work with what we have.

    3. Weegie*

      Fellow Brit here – I too have never worked in a cubicle farm, which might actually be quite a luxury! Out of the dozens of places I’ve worked, I’ve either been in an office by myself (and often in a different building from anyone I actually need to work with), or else in a massive open office surrounded by people I never have to interact with for any reason, ever, at all.

      At my latest job, I got lucky: my desk is in one of the those big, open (very noisy) offices, but fortunately I’m allowed to work at home as much as I like, so I do. It’s bliss :-)

    4. Mary*

      There are cubicles/dividers in one of the offices i currently work in (I’m split-site), and I think they’re horrible. They make the room feel so dingy and oppressive. I much preferred my old open plan office, but that did have much more room per desk.

      1. Mary*

        (Meant to say I’m UK too, & this is the first time I’ve seen dividers. I agree they Seenot be more common on the US than here!)

    5. londonedit*

      Yeah, I was going to say the same. Cubicles seem very American to me, I’ve never encountered them!

      I’ve been working for nearly 16 years and in most of the companies I’ve worked for, each department will have its own small office, maybe 8-10 people, and I guess those offices are ‘open’ – people have their own desks but there are no dividers between desks. I’ve also worked for small companies where everyone was in one room, and for one really big corporate company where literally everyone except the bosses was in a gigantic open-plan office sitting at long banks of desks.

      1. CaliforniaHeavy*

        That’s essentially the “Team Room” concept. Four to ten people in a room, all on the same team, and a door to that room that can be shut when crunch time comes. I can handle that, because you can shut out the extraneous noise.

  14. Kill ItWithFIre*

    Open plan offices are a nightmare. I finally have a walled off space but it took 2 years in an open plan sitting near the loudest group to get here. I used to come in very, very early, leave and then come back to stay very late to get the “real” work done, or come in on the weekends.

    People covet the walled off area I work in these days, there is no door but only a door sized opening with 3 spaced out stations that have been allotted to my group. I am a lot more productive here, and I get to keep a more normal work schedule!

  15. Delta Delta*

    I haven’t worked in an office like this, and it’s unlikely that I will, given the kind of work I do. Looks like one of the stated draws to this is collaboration. but if everyone wears headphones, nobody’s collaborating. So, maybe employers could be honest and just say they want to save money.

    Now I’m thinking about an invention. Maybe some sort of soundproof personal pod a person can put around/over him or herself. It could be lightweight and foldable (because hotdesking). Use it if you want, or don’t. Keep germs in or out. Customizable. Hm. Maybe I’m on to something.

      1. Mr Shark*

        I wish I could *like* this comment. A cone of silence was exactly what I thought when reading that. :)

  16. Rebecca*

    I know this will never happen, but I think if management is going to mandate open office plans, they should have to sit in one for a month to see how miserable it really is. I have my own office right now, sometimes I have an office mate (it’s a big space, so I don’t mind) but this is heaven. I can concentrate, listen to music, I have a window, and I’ve never been more productive. I don’t have to spend half my energy trying to tune out the various sounds, coughs, phone calls, and chatter all around me when I’m trying to work. Like, I can actually do what I’m paid to do without it being horrible. Why is this so hard for management to understand?????

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      They are all extroverts whose day is spent in back-to-back meetings anyway. They’ll happily sit in an open area for a month, and start pushing it even harder because they’ll say they liked it.

  17. Jane*

    When I first started my job, I had my own office. I looked forward to going to work every day.

    When we moved to cubes, I started dreading it. I feel so stressed having to sit with people every day. I’m a very strong introvert, in the sense that other people sap energy from me. Work felt so draining just because of the change in environment and my productivity and morale plummeted.

    After moving to the cube farm, I negotiated one day working from home a week, because I just needed it to recharge during the week. I get so much more done now, both at home and during the rest of the week, just because I can’t function at my best in that social environment. It doesn’t even have to do with being distracted because of noise, so headphones don’t help (and in fact, make it much worse for me, because I always have the sense that someone is about to sneak up on me.)

    1. Lizzy May*

      This! I need time away from people to be at my best. I used to have a cube and when we moved offices I ended up in a much more open space. I have a wall on one side so that I don’t have my boss yelling at me from her office (a huge plus) but the rest of my space is open to my other coworkers and to other teams. It’s exhausting and I don’t have a job where I can work from home. Also, headphones are not a part of this workplace culture typically. By lunch every day I’m dragging and that hour away from my desk barely gets me to about 3:30 before I can feel myself getting frustrated and less productive. And some days I don’t even get my lunch. I do my best to plan my day so that I have my lighter tasks for when I’m drained but I know from experience I got more done when I had a little bit of space of my own.

  18. always in email jail*

    The “it allows for easier collaboration” argument is such bull. I’ve always had an office (thank goodness) and everywhere I’ve worked still involved people stopping by in-person very frequently to ask a quick question, remind you of something, chat, brainstorm, etc. It’s not like it’s the norm for businesses with offices to have everyone shut their office doors all the time.

    1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      I am in a 100% open plan office and it absolutely does not foster collaboration. When I had my own office we used to walk around more but even with a better designed one like I’m in now (with phone booths, conference rooms, a mother’s room, wellness room, etc.) people seek each other out less because it’s distracting for so many more people when someone is walking around and hovering. I wear headphones much of the day because the team behind me NEVER SHUT UP. Luckily we can wfh 2 days a week now, but when my office consolidates with another this summer and they condense our desks more, I am requesting 100% wfh or quitting because I’m the only person on my continent that’s in my direct 7-person team anyways.

    2. TechWorker*

      So as a non-open-plan hater I think there are specific circumstances where it is useful – with regards to your example, sure someone may come in to ask you a question, but on a team like mine there are benefits to overhearing (eg being able to ask multiple folk at once, or you asked Bob but actually Jane chipped in because she did it most recently). ‘Oh wait, so-and-so mentioned this problem the other day’ is a thought that frequently occurs to me and I reckon this would be more difficult if we weren’t all sat in the same room.

  19. Anonymouse*

    Yes! My crazy abusive ED at the failing nonprofit project where I work decided to spend $3000 of our funding to remove a glass wall in an office that he doesn’t even sit in so that it would be more “open”. But the real reason as circulated by our entire organisation was that he thought the staff was conspiring behind his back and wanted the office to be secrets-free. He keeps bringing this up everytime we have a meeting about how this is the best decision he’s ever made in his 15 year tenure as Director and then proceeds to prompt all of us to agree w him. He also tried to dodge that $3000 bill when the CFO of the larger overall organisation followed up on the initial quote which she verbally gave him upon his insane request.

    1. Anonymouse*

      Mind you, the originally glass enclosed office was already being shared by 4 work stations w no partitions. So there was no possible “better collaboration” argument to be made.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Oooh, does he know the crazy abusive ex Assistant Executive Director I worked for at a nonprofit?

      She spent thousands of dollars we didn’t have available to spend having the windows on her office privacy tinted, twice. Once because she thought people could “see into” her office (they were bottom windows, so all you saw was the back of her chair from the seat down: this was a dress-down job where women did not wear skirts), and once again because she thought they weren’t tinted dark enough.

      She also had paranoia about people “out to get her” and had a separate monitor on her desk linked into the building’s security cameras. If she didn’t like who she saw talking to each other, she’d either run out to interfere with the meeting or call that office to complain that “so and so shouldn’t be chatting when they should be working.”

      1. Anonymouse*

        Sadly the crazy here is a he but he also does hat thing where if he hears people talking in the big open office, he’ll either interject w something completely unrelatedly to divert all the attention back to him (I.e. have you all seen the scissors I had in my office on my desk) or say/email something passive aggressive about how work time is not fraternising time. The people who were talking were unpaid volunteers and they were talking about work related matters. I actually use to share on office w the Glass Smashing ED and I had to move when he chucked a phone across our shared office nearby missing my head because he was mad at another staffer. Good times.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          My armchair diagnosis would be a personality disorder based on the amount of “office politics” she was trafficking in, to the point that no one trusted each other because they each thought their coworkers were spying on them for her. But who knows for sure, something was very wrong either way.

      2. Wired Wolf*

        Our supervisor sounds that level of paranoid…it’s already well known that our manager has decided that she can “watch the cameras” for stupid petty crap that she doesn’t think should be happening (so helping a colleague is “inefficient use of time”…?).

  20. Nicki Name*

    Open offices are also great for spreading germs. Headphones may help with the sound but they can’t protect you from being the next person to get the horrible cold that’s going around. I’ve had some stressful times in cubeville, but it’s never resulted in the kind of sick time I’ve had to take when working without walls.

    1. always in email jail*

      If this is derailing I apologize, but we’ve had a lot of discussion on this site regarding what is/is not a reasonable accommodation when it comes to accommodating a person’s medical needs as it affects seating in the office. I’m immunocompromised, I wonder if I could request to have a spot the furthest away from people or something if I worked in an open floor plan office (which luckily I do not)

  21. AndersonDarling*

    I just went to an open office layout. I don’t talk to anyone. It is like a library in my office because it is so quiet and any mumble becomes everyone’s business. I’m depressed by the time I leave work because it is lonesome.
    Pros: 1. Everyone up to the Divisional VP is in the space, so there are no fights over office size/view/location/availability, everyone is equal when it comes to a desk. 2. We have great views and lots of outside light.
    Cons: 1. No one talks, not even polite office conversation about weekend plans, movies, pop TV Shows, or sports. My co-workers are strangers. 2. You can’t make a private phone call. I had a medical situation and it took a month to sort out because I would have to wait DAYS to make a private call during office hours. 3. There is no knowledge sharing because people don’t want to break the silence with casual questions. 4. Meetings are postponed for weeks because the few conference rooms are overbooked with general brainstorming sessions (that would normally happen at someone’s desk) or manager one-on-ones that would happen in a manager’s office.

    1. T*

      This is how my work is too, it’s like a mausoleum, just filled with 200 people not talking to each other. I don’t know why people think the open plan will make coworkers talk to each more, it has the opposite effect. It’s so quiet you don’t want to be the one person broadcasting a conversation. Really depressing listening to my headphones all day and not conversing with people.

      1. CaliforniaHeavy*

        I would rather than have library rules than sound at a constant minimum of 55 dB spiking up to 95 dB. Drove me nuts, and I can’t use headphones.

  22. Pinky Pie*

    My skin crawls at this idea. I had ADHD and depression. My ability to concentrate is a major issue and if I were to go to an open office lay out, there goes any pretense of being normal.

    1. Hlyssande*

      I’ve just been diagnosed with ADHD and I also have depression. My current cube location has people standing behind me, walking in the aisle next to me, and generally is a distraction nightmare. :( An open office would be the stuff of horrors to me for the same reasons.

  23. Love My Open Office*

    I’m apparently in the minority, but I’ve only ever worked in an open office and I don’t mind it—and in my current office setting I love it.

    Past job, certain higher ups did have offices, while everyone else was in a corral/cubicle type setup. Current job, NO ONE has an office. There are lots of meeting rooms and individual phonebooths for calls, video conference, etc. There’s also no assigned desks—you can work wherever throughout the building and there are lots of different types of seating. (Traditional sitting/standing desks, but also booths, comfy chairs, etc.) And the current job is really flexible in terms of letting people work offsite/from home, so I’d gladly take that over having an assigned desk in an office.

    1. Love My Open Office*

      Oh—and obviously headphones are fine, but there is also white noise that goes throughout the building to minimize the minor office sounds for people not wearing them.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        Was your office converted to this type of office space or was it built this way? The only offices I have seen that were as you described were built from the ground up that way, and there have been built in sound barriers, good acoustics, and speakers for white noise.
        I did some consulting in an office that was very much like you described, and liked the flexibility of taking a call on the walking treadmill stations or meeting in a cafe area in restaurant style booth. But I really think these offices are the exception. Most are done in a traditional building when it is time to update and is done to save money.

        1. Love My Open Office*

          Definitely built this way! It’s a new building that the company built specifically for themselves and moved into a little over a year ago.

          Can totally see all the downfalls of the concept in a physical space + culture that isn’t built for it.

          1. LaDeeDa*

            It makes a world of difference! I work from home, but my company is transitioning a building that was built in the 1960s to an open space, it is already a nightmare of noise with high-walled cubicles, it is going to be HELL once they take away all the cubicle walls.

      1. Love My Open Office*

        and the thing is, in my office/on my team, even if we are all sitting next to each other, the culture is very much a “Do Not Disturb” one so it’s not like there’s constant chatter throughout the day. but if even being next to another human bugs you, there are lots of places to go hide!

    2. Alianora*

      That sounds a lot like the one my office is moving to in a couple months. It’s built from the ground up for some of my university’s administrative departments (although I think there will still be assigned desks). We’re moving towards more WFH flexibility too. Glad to hear that it can work out okay.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        In the office I did consulting work in that was built to be open space, I LOVED it! It was modern, clean, and way quieter than most cubicle spaces. I loved the flexibility of picking up my laptop and getting on the treadmill workstation, going to the cafe booth, sitting on the lounging stairs… at my current company, I work from home, and when I go into the office for meetings or events I am in a hotel space– it is a cubicle farm and it is so loud all the time, I can’t get anything done. It really makes a difference in the building design. But as I have said a couple of times, open concept is done to save money on updates for most companies.

      2. CaliforniaHeavy*

        When TeapotU moves me in a couple months, the IT staff will not do well. Too many introverts, IMO. I know I’ll probably start looking.

        Sure, TeapotUSite2 is being built from the ground up, but all of the sudden managers get offices and we all have to be butts-in-seats one day a week.

        I will be moving toward WFH two days a week, but I really need three to stay sane.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      Yeah, I’m finding this thread really interesting as I personally don’t mind open office plans at all – I’ve really only ever worked in spaces like that and started off as a receptionist so I guess I’m pretty used to working in a communal area? I just have never had the expectation that I would be working in any kind of private space. At my current job only the accounts/HR team and the company CEO have their own offices; literally everybody else including the directors sit on the main office floor.

      If anything, I think the worst experience I’ve ever had was working in a team of six in a private office, which was about the size of an average living-room. That was the only enclosed office I’ve ever worked in and it was awful. You couldn’t move without getting in someone’s face, if someone was wearing perfume or aftershave it absolutely filled the space, and it was unbelievably noisy when everybody was talking on the phone. Weirdly I also found it less private than an open-plan space because everybody was closed in together and would really notice things like my untidy desk, whereas in open spaces people would just walk on by. But obviously YMMV on this one!

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Actually wait, I’ve confused myself. Would that even fit the definition of a private office if it houses a whole team, or would it just be considered a teeny tiny open office? If so, I retract my statement: I just like BIG open offices.

  24. Nancie*

    Our department is moving to an open office sometime in the next six months. They’ve flat out told us that it’s because they want to be able to see everyone’s monitors at a glance, to make sure we’re not goofing around on the internet.


    1. Not So NewReader*

      Because they can’t think of any other method to determine who is working and who is not? Wow. Not the brightest lights in the chandelier, eh?

      1. Frozen Ginger*

        Right? I know someone on my team who is almost always “goofing off” when I go to their cube, but they’re incredibly productive and they do excellent work.

    2. CaliforniaHeavy*

      Ugh. Just ugh.

      That is a really crappy way of saying “We don’t trust you, so we’re going to watch you like a bunch of unruly toddlers.”

      If my management did that, I’d be hitting the job boards before the move.

  25. Need a Beach*

    There are some work environments where this just will not work. I once worked at an R&D engineering company that tried to move everyone to open-office/hotdesking to cram more people in without having to shell out cash for a larger building. There was nowhere to secure belongings, but complaints about wanting purse storage, etc., were ignored. Only once people started walking away with prototypes [that they shouldn’t have had access to] did the higher-ups do anything about it.

  26. Needs More Cookies*

    I think the main reason executives love open plan offices is that the noise and activity feels bustling and energetic, giving them a boost as they walk through… on the way to their private office.

    1. JustaTech*

      Yup. I had a director come down to the temporary cube farm and he was all “Why is it so quiet down here? Why isn’t anyone talking?”
      “Because other people are trying to work so we’re being polite.”
      “Huh. But you talked before.”
      “There were a quarter as many people and we were all from two groups.”

      Somewhere in the last two years senior management has developed a serious “butts in seats” mentality; and doesn’t understand that, at our current numbers, there isn’t someone in every lab every day.

  27. KR*

    Ugh I would Love a cube, or even just my own space to decorate and make homey. I’m in an office with two other people and we get along pretty well but it would be great if we had some privacy or the freedom/space to make the space a little more personalized.

  28. JustaTech*

    This makes me think about a topic we discussed last week about how “millennials won’t talk on the phone” (and if that’s even vaguely valid or not). Is it a politeness thing?

    Now that I’ve moved into a very dense cube farm (from larger, more spaced out cubes), I really, really don’t want to call people I could email or talk to in person, because I *know* it is distracting for the people around me.

    (Related, does anyone have a successful method for signalling “I’m on a conference call, please take your Game of Thrones gossip elsewhere”? I’m thinking little flags on the edge of your cube.)

      1. JustaTech*

        Ha! I was thinking some kind of visual signal to preempt the chit-chat. And honestly probably half the people I work with wouldn’t be willing to raise their voices.
        The chit-chat-ers aren’t trying to be rude, they’re just genuinely not used to anyone taking conference calls (where you just listen most of the time) from their desks (because we used to have enough conference rooms).

        1. Ennigaldi*

          I have sat through whole meetings where we tried to figure this out. The only thing that worked in my corner (accounts payable did not like to get their work done but loved cursing out management while standing up so their voices carried across the entire floor) was writing QUIET PLEASE with three underlines on the back of my notepad and holding it up over the divider. Others tried gesticulating at their phones/headsets while making big eyes at the person.

      2. Hlyssande*

        I have to do this sometimes when I’m running a training session. If I remember, I put up a little sign but it doesn’t always work. Having to shush people is anxiety-inducing, but I get extremely distracted by people talking nearby when I’m trying to explain a thing.

  29. Another Manic Monday*

    I’m on the spectrum, there’s absolutely no way I could work in an open office. The sensory overload would be overwhelming and would make working there impossible. In a cubicle, I can at least control the environment in some way shape of form thanks to the barriers.

  30. Against the grain*

    I’m surprised by all the hate for open office plans. I’m the kind of person who can’t work in coffee shops due to the noise and activity, and I’m an introverted homebody by nature, but I’m happier and more productive in an open office plan than in a cubicle. I think anyone who has to be on the phone a lot should have their own office, but otherwise I and my coworkers like them. When I worked in a cubicle farm the atmosphere felt stiff and the barrier to communicate with colleagues was higher because they were further away and I felt like I was intruding. In an open office I find it much easier to talk to coworkers.

    I wonder if there are specific traits that cause the difference in liking or hating open office plans. Or if it comes down to the associated experiences with various floor plans. Super interesting how varied people’s opinions on it are!

    1. Where’s my coffee?*

      I’m in HR and for me it’s the frustration that nearly every conversation for either me (or my direct reports) has a confidential and/or uncomfortable element and it’s difficult to find private rooms without booking far in advance. So I end up having whispered, half-coded calls in stairwells or my car instead of a reasonable conversation behind a closed door.

      It also makes giving critical feedback to others much more difficult than it needs to be.

    2. Windchime*

      But this is the problem with open offices — people who are on the phone a lot often *don’t* have their own office, so everyone has to listen to them yammer all day long. And it’s great that you find it easier to talk to coworkers, but there are many of us who find your conversations distracting and hinders our ability to concentrate. So there needs to be some kind of separation of groups.

      In a previous job, they stuck 7 of us developers in a quiet upstairs room. We had a couple of windows and cube walls. We never turned on the lights and if/when someone walked into our room, they always mentioned how creepily quiet it was. It was heaven, and we all loved it.

      1. Against the grain*

        Maybe that’s part of it for us, too. We’re all tech workers, so we’re all pretty quiet. When people from other offices visit our office, they complain about how quiet we are. In a previous job with an open office plan, it wasn’t as quiet, but we still had plenty of conference rooms and telephone booths so that anything more than a quiet conversation could occur in a closed space. Both offices also had liberal work-from-home policies, so if you needed to really focus you could just work from home. Sounds like implementation makes a big difference in how beneficial/detrimental open office plans are.

      2. Need a Beach*

        Amen to this, let people separate by job function. My work decided to integrate groups–so now Loudmouth Larry (on the phone with customers all day in a booming voice) sits next to Silent Stan (does detailed calculations all day and needs silence). Everyone hates each other.

    3. Kill ItWithFIre*

      I do very technical work (think BBT when Sheldon and Raj were working super hard an it was a montage of them staring at the white board or computer) that no one else here does. My “working group” is spread across….. 3 countries on 3 different continents and we don’t need to talk that often, and when we do it’s often in person at a work shop.

      My biggest problem with open plan is that I end up sitting by someone who makes a lot of noise as part of their job, then there’s the people who chat. If I’m at work I’m working. Chatting is for the break room, not your desks in an open plan office.

      Add in, the work I do is confidential, not for public consumption. Not even within the company unless people are being read in. So the added stress of having to secure my screen or work or clear the board if I walk away was just ridiculous. Tough to schedule bathroom breaks that allow for closing of your work files.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      Agreed, it’s really interesting!

      Interesting that you brought up coffee shops – I like open offices and also like to work in coffee shops, and I think it’s because I find that the various background noises and conversations in both just sort of blend into a kind of white noise for me. It’ not at all distracting because it doesn’t really mean anything, it’s just a background hum. On the other hand, I find that if I’m working in a quiet enclosed space with one or two people talking, it’s incredibly distracting because all my attention is drawn to that one sound and it completely breaks my focus.

    5. Mockingdragon*

      It probably has a lot to do with the work, too. The cubicled spaces I’ve worked in were 1 – customer service (constantly on the phone dealing with my own thing, but supervisors and coworkers were shouting distance away and talking through the walls was common), 2 – project management (working solo unless I needed to ask for advice; all projects belonged to a single person, 3 – technical editing (no one ever working on the same report at the same time, other spaces to go to for specific collaborative projects).

      I’ve never worked a job where I needed to work with a team of people on the same item, so more collaboration isn’t a thing that helps me. On the other hand, I often need to focus my brain on the stuff in front of me and need enough space and privacy to set myself up the way I need and not talk to anyone.

  31. Daphne*

    My current part time job has two offices but little desk space – cue laptop/desk wars on Thursdays when we’re all scheduled to be in the same day! I find making/taking phone calls awkward because there’s always another conversation happening right behind me.

    It’s a marginally better set up than the call centre I worked in when I finished uni years ago. It was open plan with shared ‘islands’ for departments. Which worked for the sales team and aftercare team (me) because we were answering/making calls all day but accounting was right behind us and it must have been a nightmare tuning it all out. The director had his own office (of course) but would leave the door wide open and blare music late afternoon…while we still had to answer phones with that in the background. I quit after four months.

  32. Coffee Cup*

    I am a bit conflicted about this, because I think under the right circumstances it could work. I work in a big public institution in Europe; my department was converted into an open plan office shortly before I arrived. The idea was to have more interractions in an informal setting, and nothing to do with cost-saving. I was very apprehensive of it when I arrived, but it works, mainly due to two very important factors: The management is right there with us practising what they preach, and it is a truly flexible work environment where no one watches when you come and go or your screen. You can walk around during the day and have social or professional interractions with people you wouldn’t have if they were all in their individual offices, and I like that environment. I believe it adds a lot to my work life. Some like it, some hate it, but it definitely isn’t the nightmarish panopticon with high-level managers watching from their glass rooms. *shrug* In fact I am leaving soon for a much smaller office, and now I am a bit apprehensive about sharing a room with only one other person!

  33. TechWorker*

    I’m obviously in the minority but we have open plan and it’s 100% fine, it definitely would not work better to all have separate offices.

    Things that maybe make it different:
    * This applies to everyone, I sit next to the CEO currently (though he’s at his desk maybe 40% of the time).
    * Theres enough meeting rooms that team meetings/individual chats/conference calls/private phone calls can be done in there – and if a conversation gets longer or more involved than 5 min it’s normal to be like ‘ok let’s take this to a meeting room’
    * We don’t have to call people that often so using a meeting room is doable.
    * The total number of people in the room is like 14 rather than 100 so it’s not super super echoey and we’re only on two different teams. (That do work together a lot).

    So – I get they can be annoying – but I don’t think they have to be or are universally terrible for all circumstances :)

  34. Art3mis*

    I interviewed at a place that had cubes, but really low walls, to the point where there was no point in even having the cubes, really. Total deal breaker for me. I was checked out before the interview even started.

  35. SalesGeek*

    Early in my professional career I worked with a customer who did a large-scale study on office ergonomics. The goal was to find out the influence(s) on your cubicle surroundings that would improve productivity and morale.

    The results boiled down to two things. First, workers who were uncomfortable found ways (“excuses”) to leave their cubicle (e.g. bathroom break, walking over to a coworker, etc.). Second, that a modest investment in improving a worker’s comfort in their cubicle yielded fairly high returns (15-20%) in productivity. Recommended improvements were pretty straightforward…a good, comfortable office chair, a height-adjustable keyboard tray, a height-adjustable stand for their computer monitor and a few more minor items. All that was required was a “modest” investment of around $700-$900 per office worker.

    The authors of the study were thanked and publicly lauded by management who proceeded to (wait for it!) do nothing about this. Not so much as a new office chair. Shortly thereafter the authors quit and formed a consulting firm that would do the same thing for other companies and they made out like bandits.

    There’s a lesson here but I’ll be darned if I know what it is…

    1. Friday*

      Hahahhaha oh wow it’s true – I pee six or seven times a day. Love those breaks from my horrible open office plan.

  36. DaniCalifornia*

    I’ve got 2 questions:
    1. For those of you in cubicles or cube farms, how does it fare vs working in an open office? My husband said it’s less distracting because there are 4 ft walls but I hate having my back to an entrance where people can easily scare me. I’m currently in an open office and there are only 3 of us here for the full year and during tax season it can get up to 6. But we have a lot of clients come in at once some days and the receptionist wouldn’t be able to handle it all by herself. So I see why we have it. (Also there is not much construction wise you can do a historic prison built in the 1800s so yeah…)

    2. Designers of all types (graphic design, UX or UI designers, art directors, etc) What have your offices typically been? Open office plans? Closed offices? Just curious as I graduate next year and wondered what I should expect, although I know each office space is different.

    1. Where’s my coffee?*

      Pros and cons to cube farm vs open office. Cube farm gives a bit more privacy and a bit less noise, but it’s easier for people to forget that you *can* still hear them and the privacy is more of a feeing than a reality.

      I like either a solo office or if that’s not workable, an enclosed area limited to just my team. I don’t work in your field, but in all the companies I’ve worked at, graphic design and similar work was done open office style.

    2. West Coast Reader*

      Main difference for me was that I couldn’t see anything moving around me. When I worked in an open office, I would actively seek out spaces with 3 sides enclosed. (We had a decorative tent with a couch inside, small phone booths, etc.) It also takes a little more effort to join other people’s conversations if there’s a wall between you.

    3. WellRed*

      I like knowing that if someone is coughing or sneezing there’s at least some barrier. I can also stretch or quickly fix makeup or whatever without being in a fishbowl. Finally, cubicle wall space is still space on which to store helpful things, from weekly editorial calendars to documents i need monthly to a fun postcard because I need beauty around me. No walls? I guess you can stick it all in an out of sight, out of mind file folder.

  37. Polymer Phil*

    Anecdotally, it seems like the people whose companies were honest about open plans being for cost savings are less bitter about it than those whose employers insist “You must be imagining things if you don’t like this! Research proves people love open offices!”

    1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      Honesty from management is welcome. I’d have had a lot more respect for the managers when I was at ToxicJob if they had just said, “These problems you’ve brought to our attention will never be dealt with, so there,” rather than vague mumblings about addressing the issue some day.

      1. Wired Wolf*

        Exactly. Everyone on my team respected our previous manager(s), because they got things done and were honest with us if there were any roadblocks or they needed something reworked to get it done within the rules.

        Not so much this time. The three of us hourly workers know far more combined than the current managerial team.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          One of the best bosses I ever had once told me, as I walked into work in the morning “I’m going to screw you over today.” He was doing what he had to do, and didn’t bullshit about it. This was a man I could communicate with.

    2. CaliforniaHeavy*

      This. TeapotU is seriously gaslighting all of us tech types with the “It’s great for collaboration!!! The people in the pilot loved it!! You just need to be resilient for change, you’re just ‘change averse’ and a whiny baby”.

      The people who are objecting have worked in at least one or more open plan offices.

      Gaslighting sucks.

  38. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Based on the major office moves/space planning/renovations that I have been through, it’s always about saving money, and specifically, getting more employees squeezed into less square footage and not spending money on office walls or nice cubicles. The smaller the square footage, the lower the rent.

    1. CaliforniaHeavy*

      Yep. Too bad that they lose more in productivity loss (as figure by a percentage of salaries) than they save in office rental costs.

  39. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    In the last couple years before I left, ToxicJob switched to open office AND Agile. And they wonder why everyone (except the manager who was a high-functioning sociopath) left the company.

    Headphones with waterfall sounds on an endless loop helped with the noise in the open office, but what I really hated were people who needed to ask you a question and would not bother to knock on the low walls or get your attention but simply barge into your area to ask about the requirements for the Lannister account. Now I work from home, and while it is vexing when husband pops in to tell me about an interesting thing he heard on NPR or the kid tells me about a funny thing some YouTuber said, it’s a lot better than an open office.

      1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        Agile is this development system where you build software and websites a piece at a time. To the best of my understanding, you’re supposed to build one element in its entirety at a time. It also has these degrading names assigned to types of contributors: chickens and pigs. It may well work in ideal circumstances, but ToxicJob sort of did a halfway approach and it was a failure, with project spinning their wheels eternally.

        1. TechWorker*

          So… we do agile though we admittedly pick and choose some bits. I’m 99% sure there was no reference to chickens and pigs in the book on it I read so clearly some people do it differently to others! The idea is to get to a ‘minimal viable product’ sooner rather than later – so you can get customer/stakeholder feedback early on rather than spending months/years on a product and finding fundamental flaws only when it gets close to the end. There’s also a whole bunch of related terminology and concepts (work gets split into ‘sprints’ which are 2-4 weeksish, you have daily ‘scrum’ (lol) standup meetings where you go through what you did yesterday, what you’re doing today and any road blocks. Standing up cos that automatically makes people ramble less ;)). There’s ‘lookahead’ and ‘demo/retrospective’ meetings – all which work well if well run and are a total waste of time if not! :)

          (Also the description of building things a piece at a time sounds sorta orthogonal to agile, like software modularity is good(tm) whichever methodology you’re using.)

          1. CaliforniaHeavy*

            Most corporate, one-size-fits-all “Agile” adoption is simple waterfall, with deathmarches called “sprints” and estimations taken for contract commitments by managers. BTDT, BTT, left the company.

  40. Triplestep (a.k.a. evil designer of open space plans)*

    I design the places where people work, including open offices, and I’ve written about this before: The reason your open office plan sucks is because when your management told the designer “we want open space – we’ve heard we can save so much money” the designer would have said things like this:

    “OK, but you must have a variety of places to work, a 1:1 ratio of conference seats to desk seats, several different kinds and sizes of conferences rooms, plus phone rooms, focus rooms, etc. And in your project budget, make sure you plan for everyone to have a laptop so they can flexibly move their work between their desk and these spaces.”

    And here’s what your management heard the designer say:


    Then the planning begins and eventually your management says “Well, Fergus needs an office – he’s been here so long” and then another leader says “Well, if we give Fergus one, we have to give one to Jane or I’ll never hear the end of it”. And so on and so on, until all your small meeting rooms, focus rooms and phone rooms have given way to private offices, and you have nowhere to take your conversation, and your co-workers are pissed.

    Open office CAN work. I’ve designed some spaces I’m pretty proud of, and I’ve introduced some design solutions that do enhance collaboration. I’ve had people move into open space with fear and trepidation only to tell me a few months later that it’s a lot better than they thought it would be. But the scenario above has played out in the majority of my projects. In my next job (starting next week) I won’t be designing offices, and what I describe above (and all the valid complaints here) are a big part I pursued this job.

    1. Where’s my coffee?*

      For the love of god if you design any more open office spaces (and I think your suggestions are great!), please ask clients to consider that departments like hr, legal, and (I’m told) finance are pretty much a logistical nightmare out in the open.

      1. Triplestep*

        In my last job, HR was my poster child for open space adaption. They LOVED it! But they also got plenty of small focus and phone rooms since their leadership sat out in the open, too. So I think it depends.

        Legal is paper intensive. They need lots of filing but should be allowed to work from home more, IMO. Their views on office design are informed by the design of law firms, which are some of the only ones left that stack all the offices on the perimeter and don’t let the support staff have any natural light. (Insurance is the other industry that still does this.)

        Finance? I think that could go either way. A lot of what people describe as “OMG NO ONE CAN SEE MY SCREEN” can be resolved with workstation placement or monitor privacy screens.

        1. TechWorker*

          Yeah, I guess it depends on the department but we just basically have ‘management sit in the corners’ such that if they are doing anything confidential you can’t see. This works better in smallish rooms (there’s maybe 15-25 people per office) I guess it would work less well in a huge open place space.

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      How do you know they’re really enthusiastic about the new open office and not just saying what will please the boss? My last job always talked about “candor.” In reality, total agreement with the higher-ups was a must.

      1. Triplestep*

        I try to hold workshops with the team to program the space. I break them up into groups to design their perfect space (they get markers and big pads of paper) and then we come back together to talk about the results. That’s when I learn about their priorities. There are always jokes about Jacuzzis and wet bars, and then we get down to the real needs and wants.

        So in the best of all worlds, I am the one telling leadership what the team’s priorities are, without naming names.

    3. Lora*

      The real reasons:

      1) it saves about $50/sqft in construction costs
      2) when the company re-orgs, which is almost guaranteed to happen every 3-5 years or so if not more frequently, you don’t have to remodel at all.

      That it. That’s seriously it.

      A big part of my job is figuring out what a site can do if we remodel or design it a certain way, how much that will cost and what’s the fastest, cheapest way to do it. I HATE open offices, but the reality is you can cram a lot of people into a small space. If they are doing manufacturing or lab work, they’re not even going to be at their desks half the time. In 2-3 years, the leadership will decide to do something else with the site – build different things, scrap it, create a new department, sell it off, whatever. In my field, offices don’t make money; manufacturing space makes money, and occasionally lab space indirectly makes money, but mostly manufacturing space makes money. Support functions like HR and Legal and Finance et al. do not make money, they are cost centers and we outsource as much of that as possible, in the cheapest way possible. If they can work from home, best of all.

      I do my best to get support functions to work from home, honestly. Have only a few people on site for immediate things, and some offices reserved for when people who normally work from home need to come in for something. But you need a decent IT staff to support this, and companies don’t want to pay for that either.

      The thing about lost productivity is that you don’t usually know the loss. Unless you are a big big corporation with lots of sites that are highly similar in all ways but Site A has open offices and Site B does not, you’ll never really know. Usually there isn’t enough data to make a legitimate comparison anyway. That said, Bell Labs achieved the most international recognition of any for profit organization and generated the most products…and they all had closed labs arranged down a hallway, where everyone got their own office / lab. I guess it’s what you want to achieve, really.

  41. aubrey*

    The only things that made an open office fine the last time I worked in one were:
    – it applied to everyone, CEO to customer service, and we all knew it was because we were a startup with no money and tbh we’d rather have market-rate salaries than better offices
    – there were max 10 of us in the office at a time
    – we could and did wear headphones and if you needed someone’s attention you either slacked them or did a little wave if you were sitting in their eyeline, no sneaking up on people
    – it was considered completely acceptable to ask people being loud to move it to the conference room (and usually you just had to say “Umm guys…” and the talking people would say “oh sorry we’re moving!”)
    – it was considered unacceptable to hover over people, read over their shoulders, talk for more than a few min in the shared space unless you had to (e.g. there was a meeting in the conference room already), etc

    Without all of those things, I would find it pretty intolerable as an introvert with ADHD!

  42. BadWolf*

    I was voluntold to be on the consulting committee for our open office conversion. We hired a firm to make a nice plan (good) but they were pretty convinced that a much of engineers wanted to perch themselves all over the open workspace like moody teenagers. Like curl up in weird chairs, lounge on low slung furniture, perch at tall tables.

    No, nearly everyone wants a nice custom adjustable desk, multiple monitors, room for back up computers, full keyboard, mouse and dock for the laptop.

    We wrangled 2 monitors, sit/stand desks, no hot-desking and still ended up with assorted un-used furniture of odd configurations.

    1. Against the grain*

      “Like mood teenagers”, haha! I’m glad you got through to them about the monitors, sit/stand desks, and no hot-desking!

    2. panic at places other than discos*

      That cube farm I was in that was packed 3 people to a cube had a space like that as well. It was bizarre. No one ever used it. It was in one of the corners. In fairness, if they’d put cubes there, it wouldn’t have helped much with the space problems. It was still very very weird.

    3. Mr Shark*

      Voluntold–I love it!
      We had low slung furniture in our “cube farm” (cubes of 4 with high walls, I liked the setup actually) that was supposed to be collaboration areas. No one ever used them, they just decorated the office unless we had a big meeting and we could drag them into the main area for seats.

  43. Chunchillos*

    Previously I would have argued that they’re lovely. We use them, I enjoy the instant access to those around me, etc etc…
    Then I was moved to a sheltered corner without anyone around me and WOW SO MUCH BETTER. I would never go back.

  44. Karen from Finance*

    We used to have not full cubicles but one of those partial dividers that’s only about a foot tall and that separates you from the person sitting across the table from you, not from people next to you. But it was so poorly set up that it fell down. And we didn’t get budget approval to replace the piece that was holding the little wall up and nobody could be argued to escalate the issue.

    And that’s how we became an open floor plan.

  45. AdvertisingAce*

    Surprised to see my bosses reason isn’t on here… She likes to be able to see the whole crowd working, and for the “accountability” of not having privacy (aka she spends the day on Facebook in her office but thinks she wouldn’t if people could see her screen).

    1. Ennigaldi*

      That’s funny, at my open office job it just made it easier to notice who was online shopping for a new outfit, which we would then crowd around and discuss instead of working!

  46. BestAndWorstSpaces*

    For my entire career, I’ve worked in open offices.

    The best setup I’ve been had open offices’ but confined to small rooms. Each room was assigned to a project team. So if you didn’t work for that project, you didn’t get place in that room. Which made the small room work because there were only 6-8 desks, even though you could cram in 20 people. The other great thing was that they had panels on the desks that were high enough so you could get a bit of “privacy” in the small room. I miss that set-up. Not the job, though, the job was a shit show.

    The worst set-up I have is now where I’m in a bank of desks in an open space with no panels and people are randomly assigned to the area. So, no real collaboration because you are surrounded by people that you don’t work with. I find myself working from home as much as I can because it’s so distracting due to the lack of privacy.

  47. Typewritergirl*

    Well I like my open office, like my colleagues, would be lonely on my own and like being able to collaborate.

    I doubt anyone will agree judging by the way this site generally skews.

    1. Where’s my coffee?*

      I like my colleagues and would also be lonely if I worked totally from home, etc.

      But I still want a private office. I’ve worked in both and it’s really difficult to work on confidential issues in an open office. It actually decreases the collaboration between my department and others.

  48. RulingWalnut*

    I love my open office and I’m sad to see so many people claim that the only benefit is cost. As a Software Engineer, it makes it so much easier to collaborate on projects, it makes me feel like a member of a larger team, I don’t feel like I’m stuck in “work mode” for 9 hours a day. Most of the time I’m fine with the background noise and the times I’m not I just throw on headphones.

    The way I think about it is people who don’t like the open office can always work from home, those of us who like the energy have no other alternative if we’re stuck in a cubicle farm. Admittedly this applies to my job specifically because people are allowed to work from home whenever they want.

    1. CaliforniaHeavy*

      Whereas I would WFH most of the time, because I hate being interrupted for “collaboration” when I have my head down in my work.

      But my employer never allow at-will WFH. A really generous one allows two (2) days a week, tops.

      I’m an introvert. People drain me, noise irritates me, and I can’t wear headphones for more than an hour at a time.

  49. happy cubicle dweller*

    I something on this today; Katharine Schwab wrote a January 15 article for titled “Everyone hates open offices. Here’s why they still exist.” I found the reasons less interesting than the stats she cites on the effects on sick leave, productivity, and collaboration.

    “Researchers have shown that people in open offices take nearly two-thirds more sick leave and report greater unhappiness, more stress, and less productivity than those with more privacy. A 2018 study by Harvard Business School found that open offices reduce face-to-face interaction by about 70% and increase email and messaging by roughly 50%, shattering the notion that they make workers collaborative. (They’re even subtly sexist.) And yet, the open plan persists–too symbolically powerful (and cheap) for many companies to abandon.”

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I read that article. It was that women had to be aware of being “on display” from all angles at all times. Glass walls and mezzanines mean if you’re on the top deck, you have to position yourself so no one can see up your skirt, and if you’re on the bottom deck, so no one can see down your neckline. It also means that if you have a coworker who is creepy, leering, etc., you move yourself out of his line of sight easily.

      2. CaliforniaHeavy*

        Oh, not just the “on display”.

        Most urban women have learned to be *ALWAYS* aware of their surroundings and who is moving around them. This is called street smarts.

        Guess what? It doesn’t go away in an open office. You can’t concentrate when people are moving around you. You are always half listening to conversation in case the sportsball talk turns a different direction.

        If you have accumulated any situational paranoia at all, open offices crank it up All. Day. Long.

        I don’t know how certain veterans and refugees can stand it.

  50. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m guessing open offices are popular with employers because it makes it easier to monitor employees.

    1. Been There, Done That*

      A True Story–a coworker on my last job told me she saw the office manager standing on her desk to look over the tall partitions into the cube of a staff member to see what she was doing. That was a paranoid place.

  51. T*

    I work in an open office and have to “hot desk” or share my space with someone in alternating periods. It sucks, all of it. From the constant noise to the irritating guy with ADHD who yells on his headset while walking up and down aisles (no offense meant to anyone with this, he happens to be a jerk with ADHD which amplifies things), the entire office is hellish. We have huge turnover from directors to managers to underlings, and the corporate brass can’t understand why. They created a prototype floor and it’s even worse, its just a plank of wood that spans the length of the room and seats 10 people with IKEA chairs. I can’t think of anything worse and they spent a ton of money to unveil it. UGH.

  52. leah*

    I’ve worked in a cube farm at past jobs, and now I’m in an entirely open office and have been for 9 years. So I’ve adjusted to the awkwardness and can focus most of the time without headphones or earbuds. I’m a manager, so much of my time is spent away from my desk in meetings, answering email, etc – not as much deep work as when I was an individual contributer. And frankly, it was way worse then because it was much, much harder to concentrate when I needed to focus on deep work for an extended period of time. If I need to do that now, I’ll book a meeting room or work late when everyone is gone. My absolute *favorite* thing about the open office is all the complaints I get about what people are doing at their desks: the way they eat an apple is weird, they talk too loudly, they whisper too much, the smell of their lotion makes me sick, they slurp their coffee, they pick their nose, they sneeze too loudly, and on and on and on. All things that might still bug you in a cube farm but they’re made so much more obvious and annoying in open setting. It’s fascinating what drives people crazy. And it’s a bear trying to manage that.

  53. Ennigaldi*

    On my first day at LastJob, the big red flag was waving right from the HR department that was IN THE MIDDLE of the open office. There were also only three conference rooms for the whole area, all glass walled, AND the directors had glass walled offices, so everyone knew who was talking to HR and when, and usually what about because again, the HR staff was making calls in the middle of an open office! Imagine how well it went when I asked for ADA accommodation for my complete inability to concentrate in my open cube.

    This was a newly built museum, so the story was that the fancy international architecture firm had spent all their attention on the (admittedly gorgeous and well laid out) gallery spaces and then just carved out a couple of floors of office/classrooms. It explained why we didn’t have a staff washroom or kitchen, at least.

  54. Nessun*

    I’m working from home today because I have a heinous cold and the idea of everyone listening to me cough, splutter, and sneeze all day in our open concept office is almost as distasteful to me as it would be to them. I’d be really curious to see the correlation between sickness in the office and open concept floor plans. I’m lucky I can WFH, and that we have unlimited sick days; lots of people are bound to suffer doubly with the coughing and germs, as well as the noise and distraction.

    1. Ennigaldi*

      The one redeeming quality of my open office was that we were given and encouraged to take sick days the minute we felt like we were coming down with something. I still got sick about six times a year there, more than double my usual rate.

    2. Veronica Sawyer*

      I caught pink eye the first week at my new open office job. There is almost always one or more people off sick at any time there (about 10 people).

      1. Veronica Sawyer*

        Out of my team of 10, that is. I’m in a section of the office with about 20 people in the room.

      2. CaliforniaHeavy*

        I caught pneumonia in my first month at my last job in an open plan office. I was a contractor, so were most people there (they all came in sick) and I lost over three weeks of pay.

  55. ElmyraDuff*

    Ughhhhhhhhh we just learned we’re moving from nice, cozy, private cubes to an open floor plan by the end of February and I hate everything.

  56. slantedSunlight*

    I’ve been in cubicles, open office spaces, and once an actual office, and I’m one of those weird people who would take the open office over the other options any day. I find cubicles and offices extremely isolating, and they make me feel much more like a cog in the wheel, whereas with the open office, people are always doing things, so I feel more actively included. If I need to concentrate, then I put on headphones and can effectively tune out what’s happening around me, but it’s always there if I need to look up again. I’m a programmer, so it’s not like I don’t need to focus a lot of the time, but the open office facilitates conversations between engineers that really do need to happen and engineers often think are unnecessary, and removing even the smallest amount of friction makes them happen more frequently. It might also help that, unlike a lot of commenters, everyone in our company, up to and including the CEO, participates in the open office plan, so there’s very little hypocrisy. HR has sensitive meetings in one of the many small meetings rooms, and not at their desks, and discussions with managers typically happen outside – people go for a 15-20 minute walk around the office – or in one of the small meeting rooms (office-sized, but with a couch, a chair, a coffee table and a large monitor so you can project your laptop screen)

    I will admit that it is likely something weird about me (I’m a socially awkward extrovert, so I thrive on social interaction, but I’m terrible at making it happen). When I was in school I studied in the lounge areas on campus, as I could never get anything done in the library, but I could focus wonderfully when there were people doing things all around me. But I’m also worried I might be doing work wrong, since there’s such a consensus about this, and I am so clearly on the other side of it.

    1. TechWorker*

      Nah I’m with you. Also an engineer – Also on the library thing I cannot stand working in complete silence so maybe there’s some correlation there!

  57. Feline*

    My employer is doing the “cut down the cubicle walls for collaboration!” thing while also moving groups to seat the least-compatible groups next to each other. Coders who need quiet to focus seated next to the never-shut-up PMs with no indoor voices. That sort of thing. So much productivity lost in the name of “collaboration” while individuals with non-collaborative tasks can’t get them done because of the added distractions.

  58. EasyCheesy*

    I had an office for a decade or more, then was sent to cubicle hell when our office relocated, and I hated it. When that company was sold and my job disappeared I decided I was done with cubicles forever. This was easier said than done. Out of dozens of jobs I interviewed for, only two weren’t in cubicles. I applied for one HR job working right under the VP of HR, and neither position warranted an office at this company. I could not even imagine doing HR work out in the open like that. I liked a lot of things about that company, but that was a hard pass.

    (Yes, I did eventually find a job where I have an office. It’s great. My door is closed right now because two co-workers are chit-chatting.)

    1. Where’s my coffee?*

      It’s awful doing HR in an open environment. Legal has a quick question on a pending EEOC charge? You’re getting up and calling them back on your cell while you hunt for a small private room—bathroom, supply closet, your car, etc. A director calls you with a brief policy question that begins evolving into a bigger discussion about something like a reorganization? You’re now standing outside in the snow with your laptop to get some privacy.

      If you’re assigned to as an HR rep on a specific project, and holed up in a room with other people from other functions who are also working on that project (say, an HRIS conversion)—an open collaborative setup works awesome. But for everyday operational and coaching work, it’s awful.

  59. Noah*

    I’ve worked in several open offices over the past 8 years or so and, for the most part, I haven’t really minded it. However I’ve noticed a few things that make it a lot more bearable:
    1. Nobody gets an office. Every person from the CEO on down works in the open portion of the office.
    2. It doesn’t work if a place has a portion of their staff talking on the phone all day. I worked at a place that had library rules, but it seemed too much to need to go into a room to have any conversation.
    3. Have enough small conference rooms to move to for focus time, to take calls and have small meetings in. It sounds like overkill, but 1 room for every 6-8 people worked out really well.
    4. Discourage people from camping out in conference rooms for days at a time
    5. Make sure sound doesn’t travel between rooms and have at least one room without glass walls to have confidental conversations in.
    6. Allow people to work from home at their own discretion. Sometimes people need a quiet/focus day and working from home often Ian helpful for those times.

    1. thankful for AAM.*

      I work in a library, I think by library rules you mean quiet, but libraries are not like that anymore. They can be pretty raucus places with quiet rooms and quiet floors. Kind of like open offices!

  60. dovidbawie*

    I’ve never had to work in a true open office plan, thank goodness. Mostly open was bad enough.

    At a higher level of overall interior design & architecture trends, I don’t understand why open concept in homes is so popular. Sure they look great WHEN THEY’RE PERFECTLY CLEAN, but I friggin hate seeing my dirty sink & laundry when I’m on my couch, or all the noise from a blender interrupting the TV show in the next “room”. Plus heating & cooling one large space is so much less efficient than several smaller spaces. Open concept anything is just terrible for the common lifestyles of regular people.

    1. Been There, Done That*

      I liked my open-space “demi-loft,” as I called it, but I had tons of storage space to tuck everything away. It might not have been the most organized behind cupboard doors, but so what, it was my disorganization and it wasn’t visible. :)

    2. TechWorker*

      I totally agree that I don’t want my kitchen and living room in the same room – but I think (hope? At least I think it’s the case in the U.K.!) that article missed a trick in why tiny kitchens in a separate room are becoming less popular – because more people are cooking and fewer women are happy to be stuck in a tiny room by themselves if they are… I get that planning solely for entertaining is silly, but when we do have people over, even if it’s not often, I hate feeling like whoever’s hosting has to isolate themselves. It’s all about the kitchen diner :p

  61. Cucumberzucchini*

    When I was looking for new office space is was incredibly difficult to find an office to rent that had individual offices, most of them were big open rooms. Even with cubicles that’s still not the same. I’m one business owner that hates open-concept offices and refuse to rent/own one. I know the type of distractions that can come from them and I want my staff to be able to focus on their work.

    We did finally find an office with the perfect setup. Individual offices or two per people per office for all staff.

    1. CaliforniaHeavy*

      You are awesome. It’s nice to see a business owner who understands what doing the work requires.

  62. Shartheheretic*

    The only jobs I’ve had with open office plans were customer service jobs. Giant rooms full of people talking on the phone, often very loudly. It never made sense to me. I’ve always felt bad for anyone sitting near me in any office because I know my voice carries, and I’m usually in a “touchy-feely” or sales-oriented CS position so I am also chatty in order to make the customer comfortable. I try to be as quiet as I can, but it’s easy for my voice to get away from me when I’m involved in a conversation.

    Now I work for myself from home, and I have to schedule myself time to interact with other people so I don’t go stir crazy or get too isolated.

  63. Workinprogress*

    I’m in the minority here of actually liking the open concept office I work in… but I think there are a few crucial differences that set it apart from the common (valid) grievances folks usually express.

    First, in my office, none of what you might term C level folks have offices. (In fact no one even has an assigned desk). It’s a new space so when it was designed they did so with a substantial amount of conference rooms for private meetings/convos. There are also smaller “telephone” rooms (chair, phone, table) and even some sound proof telephone booths (very Star Trek). Different areas of the office have also been divided into “sound levels” – quiet, conversational, collaborative. There is also a large “quiet room.” (However it’s actually rarely in use). Everyone on staff is also allowed 2days work from home… so everything is very flexible. It’s still collaborative – but not any more or less than a closed office. A lot of collaboration goes on via Slack and email (again, this is bc half the office is usually not working from the office at any given time).

    My last place was also open concept. Our CEO wanted to be “hip” and thought it would be more “collaborative.” I think he had this fantasy of everyone constantly brainstorming at whiteboards together, immersed in constant passionate conversation… but that’s obviously not what happened. He’d claim to be flexible with how we worked, but would be upset if we went to work at a coffee shop… he wanted folks in the space and at their desks “collaborating.” The thing is, we WERE constantly collaborating – it just looked a lot different than the narrow vision of it he had in his head. It was a very weird situation to be in. (And also soooo quiet bc everyone had headphones in and would just chat via slack vs yelling across the room… because, rude).

    I think for an open concept to work you need leadership to walk the talk (aka “no office for you!”), offer flexibility within the space (plenty of quiet zones, conference rooms, variety of work station set ups), and most of all agreement among the team of how to best make use of the space. (This means leadership taking into account valid concerns and making accomodations to ensure their team can feel productive and heard).

    Now, it’s not perfect -there’s still no place to go privately cry (aside from the restroom). But luckily my current work situation hasn’t resulted in any stress crying!

    For the most part, everyone on our team is pretty happen with our new office (and these were folks that previously had private offices and cubes). If leaders want a collaborative space, they have to realize that they’ll need to collaborate with their employees from the jump on how to best make that open concept plan work and be flexible themselves. And I think this is where things fail and go wrong in most cases.

  64. Former call centre worker*

    I… quite like my open-plan office.

    After several years working in a call centre (also open plan, very much by necessity) I don’t have any problem focusing because no matter what’s going on it’s still quieter than that. Those who get distracted/interrupted a lot generally work from home some days.

    My desk is one of the closest to one of the entrances so I’ve chatted to a lot of people who definitely wouldn’t know who I was if I was shut in a little office somewhere.

    Our floor is very large and only has windows at the two far ends, so it being open plan means that I can at least see a window if not actually benefit from natural light. I think some buildings aren’t really suited to small/individual offices. My company owns several other buildings on the same industrial estate and we need to travel between them so an office move is not going to happen.

    I can’t imagine anything worse than having an office to myself – except perhaps having an office that I share with one other person who plays religious music or farts a lot, as per previous AAM letters!

  65. Bowserkitty*

    Open office seems to be my experience in Japan at both of my offices. It’s got its advantages and disadvantages for sure and I kind of miss cube life, but my last job in America was also open office. I’m apathetic I guess. At least in Japan I don’t have to worry about people playing horrible country music (if any music!) in their offices.

  66. Nervous Accountant*

    I gotta admit. I know I’ve said a lot of crappy stuff in the past.

    I have worked near/next to people who:

    constantly looked at my screen
    butt in to every conversation
    smelled awful
    farted openly and proudly
    banged on their desks
    played music out loud
    constantly on their phone
    constantly boundary pushing and interrupting (looking at you new guy who pushed on having an eval at 2 weeks in).

    Still, despite all this, I’d hate to be shut in an office away from everyone.

    1. Beancounter*

      My company is modulating from cube land to open desks cubes, so to speak. The desks are adjustable in height so I can stand, which is a plus, and I’m actually more productive because my CFO likes to stand and is positioned behind me in a way that he can see my monitors. It keeps me from goofing off too much.

      However, it is LOUD. People are taking to yelling across the department to speak to someone for non-urgent tasks that interrupt focus. The departmental over-achiever kept pushing to play music from a speaker all day (that was pointed at me, who loves music, but hates it blaring all day) and now that music playing is a failed endeavor (I “accidentally” pushed it off the table behind some cords), she’s diffusing essential oils at her desk. While they don’t smell badly, it’s still something I’d rather not encounter at work everyday, all day long. Lavender is a popular scent, but I don’t like it.

      Coworkers push their chairs back to stand up and leave their chairs blocking the aisles to get through. I stay particularly close to my desk edge because the desks are a little close on my side and I have two colleagues who are against the wall and going past me a lot. My boss downsized from an office with six years of clutter and her stuff would probably classify as a fire hazard because it blocks part of an aisle.

      On the plus side, I’m seated next to my supervisor and behind my boss, so I get to overhear and learn some of the higher up processing of the department, which is good for my career. :)

      1. Been There, Done That*

        Ah, the yelling. I work with a lady who’s basically nice but my god she’s LOUD. And she HOLLERS from room to room. A number of people do that here (we’re not even a real cube farm or open plan, we have a gimcracked “suite” of 3 rooms plus 3 private offices, but it’s an oddball layout where some people are shoved together and others have plenty of space, but it’s all wide open).

  67. Grand Mouse*

    I wonder how it would work for someone like me who has agoraphobia and hypervigilance from ptsd? Would I just have to screen these places out? Get an accomodation so I’m the only one with a cubicle? Wild.

  68. Bethany*

    Am I the only one who likes my open office? I previously worked for a tiny company working out of a converted house, and everybody had their own office or shared with one other person. I found it really lonely and non-collaborative.

    I now work for a large multinational which hot-desks in an open office, and I much prefer it. I think they do it really well, and it helps to have the following:
    1. Plenty of desks, no need to reserve or worry about finding one
    2. Plenty of large lockers
    3. A lot of of conference rooms, meeting rooms and focus rooms (approx 1 per 8 employees)
    4. Flexibility to work from home
    5. Good IT setup
    6. Well set-up large kitchen areas where people can eat while they work, and a ban on eating at desks
    7. Cleaning every single day, including a dedicated full-time staff member to do dishwashers/kitchens/refill the tea and coffee (side note: they employ a person with special needs for this job, and he is fantastic)
    8. Common sense and general respect
    9. Consistency – every single worker in the company, including the bosses, is treated the same
    10. Plenty of common spaces for storage of books and printed material

    As a consultant I like being able to go to a different area for a a different project, and it’s much more useful to be able to hear what’s going on in your project in the

  69. Been There, Done That*

    The only people I’ve ever known who actually like open plans (and I can count them on my fingers with plenty left over) are the ones who hardly ever come to the office, who like to talk and talk and talk, who sometimes have no grasp of the fact that somebody else’s job might entail concentrating, focusing, and not having to listen to talk-talk-talk, and who have the flexibility in their jobs to step out to the hallway, the coffee shop, or their car at any time they want for a personal phone call. They always cheered how open floor plans or low, see-over partitions made the place more welcoming and collaborative, but they didn’t have to work in one 40 hours a week.

      1. Nervous Accountant*

        Like, I would never ever say “people who like closed offices are antisocial and grumpy and can’t carry a conversation.” obviously that’s not accurate. I’m not sure why it’s acceptable the other way around though.

        1. CaliforniaHeavy*

          Guess what? I’m an introvert – which in an open plan environment means “antisocial and grumpy”, and don’t want to have, much less carry, a conversation.

          So in my case, that is fairly accurate, and part of who I am.

      2. Been There, Done That*

        I’m describing people I’ve actually KNOWN and WORKED WITH. Basically nice people, but their jobs don’t entail, for example, much hunkering over big chunks of data to make sense of them, researching, or writing/editing. Sure, you might collaborate with colleagues on those projects, but you also spend a lot of time in your own head doing that work.

    1. CaliforniaHeavy*

      I classify people who like open plans one of three ways:
      1) Managers (who often have offices) – who like control or “seeing people working”
      2) Extroverts – people who get energized and inspired by being around others
      3) Flakes – people who use the pretense of “collaboration” to spend all day talking, interrupting others, and none of of it working.

      I’ve been reading/researching on the subject for nearly six years now, and that’s how it seems to break down.

      I seldom assume people are in the third group, because extroversion is really, really common.

  70. Doctor Schmoctor*

    I would kill for a cubicle. We sit in these rows of desks with crappy low partitions between them. It really only keeps our stuff from spilling onto adjacent desks. No privacy at all. Some of the more senior people have offices, but some don’t have doors.

    It’s about fitting more people into less space. Nothing else. All this crap about “collaboration” etc. is nonsense. It’s about money.

  71. Jemima Bond*

    I’ve only ever worked in open plan offices and tbh I thought it was normal. Circs: I am forty one, have been a civil servant since graduation and am in the UK. Only the most important ninja-assassin bosses at my guild have offices. So say we had assassins graded A to I where there is one grade A, the Grand High Assassin, and H is the lowest grade assassin with I being support staff (poison mixers, sniper rifle storage etc). I am a grade G ninja and wouldn’t expect an office until I was a C grade which will probably never happen.
    I think a few friends might have their own office or a smaller shared one but I associate that with rather high-powered careers in lucrative private sector things like consultancy and banking. I have straw polled my Facebook friends to see what I can find out.
    I don’t know anyone who works in a cubicle nor seen such a set-up; I think of them as “that thing American offices have” and have only seen it on TV.

    To be honest I haven’t got an issue with open plan; it’s never really bothered me. But firstly I’ve always worked in teams where collaboration and the team dynamic is very important (I need to trust my colleagues to hold the rope while I abseil down the side of the building in the dead of night, obvs) and secondly I just don’t know any different!

  72. stitchinthyme*

    One of the major reasons I’m still at my current job is I have my own office. I’ve never been unlucky enough to work in a completely open office, but cube farms are bad enough since you can still hear just about everything that goes on around you. But having walls, even flimsy ones that don’t go all the way up, is still better than none at all.

  73. Techie_Katie*

    This is a topic I have strong opinions on – I’ve worked for the same company for 12 years in different offices and have gone between regular square cubicles with half walls, angled cubicles with higher walls, a completely open plan where each person only had a four foot long desk and we sat back to back and now working in an building with sliding glass door offices. I honestly didn’t really mind the cubicles because my biggest anxiety is someone watching over my shoulder so I at least had some blockage in the cubicle. The completely open plan was terrible; at the time I was on a team who was at least 50% international so everyone was constantly on the phone and if you were on a call there was a good chance you were picking up at least some of another person’s calls. In the open office plan there was way more conversation over instant messaging because you didn’t want to force everyone around you to listen to a conversation (or if it was sensitive) rather than in my current setting where you can step in and close the door. I dread the day I have to move back into the completely open space with no walls whatsoever, and even more so the number of offices going to “hot-desking” where you don’t even have a dedicated space. If I was working from home >50% of the time I might not mind that but the thought of having to find a new desk each day and store supplies in a locker sounds awful.

  74. Veronica Sawyer*

    The absolute worst workspace I ever had was a huge, open office with long shared tables. There was no division between departments, and I ended up sandwiched between someone speaking Polish on the phone all day, and a group of Spanish speakers who chatted constantly. Add to that a loft atmosphere with NO carpet or soft surfaces and speakers piping in techno music all day long. It was pretty much the atmosphere of working in a bar, but at a computer. I tried so many different headphones and there was nothing that could block the noise out. I literally felt like I was losing my mind there, I actually cried with relief when I was laid off so I never had to sit in that office again!

    1. Been There, Done That*

      dear lord, it sounds like you were working in the school cafeteria. we had study hall there. At least we had a proctor so you had to be quiet so people could actually study.

  75. CaliforniaHeavy*

    I work for a well known university, we’ll call it TeapotU. Up until this year we have had shared offices on the TeapotU main campus. In fact, I left a job in an open plan hell pit to come here, for an office and a shorter commute and a $15K pay cut.

    I have worked for 4 different companies with open plan offices, and suffered increased stress and decreased productivity in every one.

    When I started, they told me about the eventual move to TeapotUSite2 – this was in 2015. I didn’t have too much problem with it, although my commute would increase again.

    Then, last year, they started bragging about their &$#&#$& open plan offices and how great it would be! They ran a “pilot” and said everyone loved it (which I know is a lie based on talking to people who participated.) I started pushing back. This was before the interior was finish, when they could have changed it. But they were “committed”, evidence be damned. They just gaslighted me, told me my concerns were false.

    Then they came up with crap like classes for “Managing Change With Resilience”. What bollocks! Change that requires resilience is learning how to walk again, changing careers, and other total life restructuring, not moving to a craptastic open plan.

    So now I feel insulted, gaslighted, and I have senior managers on my case for daring to point out the problems.

    TeapotU is a research university. I have a stack of articles and papers accumulated over five years about the problems. I have articles and spreadsheets on why it’s not cost effective because the money you save on real estate costs is LESS then you lose in productivity. Nothing sticks.

    So now TeapotU will lose about 25% of their staff that gets moved. The rest will be at 50% – 75% of their previous efficiency, and have 60% MORE sick leave.

    This is awful.

  76. Alex in Marketing*

    I have an open office situation where I sit parallel between two other assistant-level employees. My job is very much so different from theirs as I am actually a marketing specialist and they are assistants. The open setting has allowed for the lady next to me (at least 30 years my senior) to look over at what I’m doing and critique literally AS I TYPE. Along with that, the fellow employees yell at each other over me. My bosses tried to get walls put up to create a cubicle-like setting, but it was denied as the set up is “good for culture.”

    It is, by far, the opposite as it highly decreases my productivity throughout the day.

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