update: how can I avoid taking a job in an open-plan office?

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer back in 2018 who asked how to avoid taking a job in an open-plan office? Here’s the update.

First, I very much appreciate the advice and commentary! Unfortunately I couldn’t be on the site while that was going on so I never interacted with the commentariat, but I read every response. Much thoughtful discussion, as well as commiseration which I appreciated.

Boy howdy, 2018 seems like a billion years ago…. My update is a mixed bag, with a mostly happy ending. Despite my confidence at the time, I did not get a phone interview, or even a “thanks but no thanks” response. I heard later through local contacts that this was a situation of the company being required to post externally, but there was an internal candidate in line for the position. Of course, it may be that I was just not as appealing as I thought! I did not change jobs and a few months later I ended up in the new space.

We were one of the last departments to make the move and either because the company had learned from the initial transitions, or because we’re the whiniest and most entitled, our space was significantly better than others we’d seen as this was rolled out. Physically, it was extremely nice. We had lots of space and light. I could go (and have gone) into long rants about the overall experience, but it was pretty much as I was expecting. One thing that was surprising was the fact that, despite this supposedly being about “collaboration”, a lot of the time the shared spaces were pretty quiet, like a library. People whispered. People IM’d with the person sitting next to them rather than speak into the silence. If you did speak at a normal volume, you got the stink-eye from nearby people trying to concentrate. This contrasted with the former, dare I say it, “collaborative” environment where people would walk into someone’s office for a quick chat, or stop by someone’s cube, etc. It did the opposite of what was “intended”. (Actually it did exactly what was in fact intended – it drastically decreased footprint.) There were of course some people who seemed to enjoy imposing their conversations on everyone in earshot, or saw nothing wrong with sitting down three feet away from someone and eating noisy and/or smelly food all day long. It was usually possible to pack up your stuff and get away from them. What a good use of twenty minutes of the work day! /s

Then, Covid. We quickly went remote and are still 100% remote, except for those that can only do their job on site. I went on site a few times since March 2020, and it was a ghost town. The big news is, job category and supervisor willing, you can apply to remain 100% remote. Favorite City is an option! This is a huge culture change for the organization.

However I discovered that 100% remote is not perfect either. Ideally I’d like to go in once in a while, if only to talk, in person, to someone other than my dog. Had this been the plan all along – work remotely when you don’t need to be physically present, come in to the open environment when it’s necessary – I would not have had any issue with the concept. But at that time that model was not being considered at all. This era has been a sort of “forced proof of concept” that has shown that being there in person isn’t necessary for everyone. I am surprised and grateful that the company has recognized this. They were also great at supporting the remote work force in terms of equipment, engagement etc. They’ve taken the virus extremely seriously.

I’m aware of my privilege, of having the means to have living space adequate for working at home. I know that’s not the case for everyone. I still hope to end up in Favorite City someday, even though the position I wrote in about was a bust.

I do wonder a lot about what this era is going to do to the “densification” trend in corporate America. I can’t imagine a decent company will require people to be packed in like sardines, every day, when it isn’t necessary to the doing of the job. But reading this site, it’s seems some companies are going back there. I am somewhat hopeful alternatives will be more generally available. If I end up looking for another job in the future I’m very happy the concept of mostly- or entirely-remote work won’t be an exotic ask.

{ 71 comments… read them below }

  1. Not Today Josephine*

    When our office was revamped, pre-Covid, they actually laid rugs in different patterns to delineate the “neighborhoods” for the open office plan. I told my manager that I would not work in an open office and I was not alone. Basically enough people said they would quit that the management decided to scrap the open office concept altogether. There is power in numbers.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I would put down Les Nessman-style tape to indicate walls. And, yes, I would pantomime opening & closing a door.

    2. Bongofury*

      In March of 2020 (seriously!) our VP of Facilities decide to tear down all of our five foot cubicle walls and replace them with what we called picnic tables. Because that’s what they were. A long table with no delineation between one desk and the next. We fought it hard but the VP won out. We even measured and there was only four feet of difference between one “desk” and another so not technically within the six feet rule.

      But nope. He insisted. After sitting in them for 2 weeks we all go sent to work from home permanently thank goodness. But it was a hellish two weeks. It was like sardines in a can. We had no break room on our floor so everyone was required to eat lunch at their “desk,” within touching distance of their coworkers who had a different lunch time. That was fun for the people taking the late lunch shift. UGH.

      1. Radical Edward*

        This sounds exactly like a traditional Japanese office layout. Including the eating at desks part. *shudders* At least in Japan most people would never dream of eating a fragrant lunch in such a setting!

  2. Lana Kane*

    “I do wonder a lot about what this era is going to do to the “densification” trend in corporate America. I can’t imagine a decent company will require people to be packed in like sardines, every day, when it isn’t necessary to the doing of the job. ”

    I’ve also wondered how long it will be until we see new home construction take remote workers into account. Will more new homes have some dedicated office space as part of the normal design?

    1. mandatory anon*

      That’s been a thing in my high-demand area of the PNW for a while now. Lots of mention in local business news etc.

    2. Decidedly Me*

      It’s interesting in that I wonder how necessary it is for a room to specifically be called/created as an office in new construction. A home with a smaller spare room could be sold as having more rooms OR one less room + office, which offers more flexibility (and resale value for the former as things stand now) vs it only being designed as an office.

      1. Pants*

        There are companies out there who specialise in this. Several of my coworkers have used backyardoffice.com and studio-shed.com to build their own private offices. Makes me envy having a yard, but my rent is too cheap to dwell on that for very long.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        At least in my state there are very specific requirements for something to classify as a bedroom so I can see the distinction being helpful from a coding standpoint.

        1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

          Yes – my large, roomy home office in the basement cannot be listed as a bedroom because there is no egress in case of a fire. TBH, we have used it as a guest bedroom very occasionally, but we couldn’t sell it as such.

      3. alienor*

        I don’t know if this is the case in other large cities, but in NYC we have the “junior 4” or “flex” apartment where one of the rooms is a sort of alcove (often without a doorway/opening but not an actual door) and can theoretically either be a second bedroom or an office. It’s really annoying when you need an actual 2-bedroom with equal or near-equal size rooms, and half the 2-bedroom listings turn out to secretly be junior 4s instead.

      4. turquoisecow*

        Our current home has a small room in it that can’t technically be considered a bedroom because there isn’t a closet, so it was billed as an office. That’s how the previous owners used and it’s now my husband’s office. (It’s downstairs and away from the main living area and the upstairs bedrooms, so I’m not sure what else you would use it for – maybe an art studio or something?) I could see some cheap builders who don’t want to go through the hassle of adding a closet call that extra room an office, and this being a trend in new construction.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Add an armoire and it’s usable as a bedroom. Could be a great location for a young adult moving back home after college, at least if there’s a close bathroom.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I’ve been using a third bedroom as an office for a while now. It makes sense I think to put a window and closet in a room where the owner/renter can decide if they call it a bedroom or office or home gym or whatever versus it being harder to make it bedroom because it doesn’t have a closet.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Depending on the amount of space you’re working with it might help the property value more to have an office than a room where the closet and the room space aren’t vastly different sizes (speaking from experience). It’s an interesting thing to think about.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        This is kind of funny to me because I live somewhere where built-in closets are extremely rare (we use furniture to store our clothes). So I’d think putting in a closet would make it *less* flexible as a room.

        Having lived in an apartment where the bedroom had no window, I have to say a window is important though – that bedroom sucked.

    4. brightbetween*

      That’s been a thing for a long time at least in some places. My parents bought a new construction house in 1988 and had the option of having either a closet or alcove in the downstairs bedroom/office depending on what their plans were for the space.

    5. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      My house has that mid-80s thing of having both a “living room” and a “family room,” so I turned the less-centralized one into my home office because I never could figure out why one would need two living rooms :)

      1. Filosofickle*

        Two living rooms are for getting away from the other people ;)

        Growing up we had both living & family, and only one was for kids so the other one stayed clean and quiet. I just moved into a house that has both and will largely duplicate that — one will have a TV and one will be for quiet and guests. I like to have the TV on and partner doesn’t so this way he can read in peace.

      2. turquoisecow*

        We have a living room and a family room and since we have a small toddler we use the carpeted family room as her playroom much more often than the living room. I think in theory the idea is that then the kids play in one room and the adults converge in another room for adult conversation, so maybe that’ll be an option when she’s old enough to play alone in one room while we’re not there.

        1. NoviceManagerGuy*

          I live in a house from before World War I that definitely doesn’t have this, but it has a finished attic which we use as a playroom to the same effect.

      3. Gatomon*

        I grew up in a 1960s home that had both. The living room was up front with the picture window and dining room, and the family room was off the kitchen on the back of the house. The living room was for receiving guests and was kept neat, had nicer furniture, no TV. The family room was where we hung out in general. If my parents wanted to get away from us kids, they retreated to their master bedroom (which was quite large).

        You’re right though that these days it’s a bit pointless. Most people want a kitchen-dining-family room that all flows together, not a whole separate room that requires another set of furniture.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It’s like the old-fashioned parlour/front room, which is kept clean to entertain guests you need to impress/don’t like/the vicar, and the back room where the kids could play and the mums hang out drinking tea and keeping an eye on the kids and cooking (aka multi-tasking).

      5. Elsajeni*

        I am casually house-hunting and what I’m seeing a lot of are midcentury places where the “formal dining room” has been converted into an office — because they also usually have both the “formal living room” and “family room,” there’s plenty of space to move your dinner table in there, hang French doors on the dining room if it doesn’t already have them, and voila! A closed-off home office without sacrificing a bedroom.

      6. Rebecca Stewart*

        It’s a relic of the time when you had a parlor that was kept nice for guests to sit in and actually used the “family room”.

    6. plums*

      I started seeing WFH spaces in new housing construction advertisements in the PNW about a year ago, so it’s definitely already started.

      Granted, these were 7-figure homes, and likely just extra bedrooms (I don’t remember at this point), but they were called out specifically as WFH spaces.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I’ve seen more apartments advertised lately that have a small built-in desk near the kitchen. That would be handy, especially if it’s a 1-bedroom space. Not a whole lot more square footage, but very handy.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          Both my mother’s house (built in the 1970s) and my father’s house (built in the 1990s) came with built-in desks near the kitchen. My house (built in the 1950s) has one in the living room. I don’t remember having one in an apartment, but they’ve been a pretty common house feature around here (PNW) over decades, apparently.

          My parents tended to used them as a place to deal with mail and pay bills, household stuff, and have their actual home offices in other spaces, but they also had a bedroom or rec room that could be turned into an office available further from the main traffic areas. I use my built in desk for my living room stereo equipment. I could see it being useful in a small apartment, though, if the choices were work from the kitchen/living room or work from the bedroom.

    7. AMD*

      I think this will be game-changing for new home construction. My partner and I (we both work remotely) just bought a townhouse based almost entirely on the fact that it has two office areas on a separate floor from bedrooms/shared living areas. I can’t imagine that we are unique in desiring this kind of set up.

  3. anonymous73*

    I don’t remember your initial letter, but I kind of disagree with Alison on being hesitant to bring up your question about the open office concept in a phone screen. If you have a deal breaker (I have a few), it’s best to bring it (them) up as soon as possible. If that keeps me from moving forward, so be it, but it makes no sense to move continue with the time and effort of an interview, wasting everyone’s time, if there’s a deal breaker involved. Now granted they could be dishonest or lead you to believe they will work with you (I’ve had this happen twice in the last few weeks), but if you’re in a position to be particular, state your case up front.

    And why any company would think hot desking for those who are in the office 5 days a week is a good idea is mind boggling to me. Used for travelers who are rarely in the office, or now with hybrid schedules I can see it. But for full timers, you need your own permanent space.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      To be fair, Alison didn’t discourage the LW from asking at the phone screen stage, just to make it not the *only* thing she asked about. Although I also wonder if Alison’s answer would have a different nuance today vs four years ago.

    2. Anonym*

      It’s just cost savings on real estate. My company did this around 2018-19, after plenty of research had already come out demonstrating just how damaging open offices are for productivity and collaboration, and it just sucked. It’s exactly as OP describes in the update.

      And now they’re trying to force us back 3 days a week and I just can’t. I’m overworked as it is (and uncomfortably pregnant), and am currently choosing to just not show up and actually get most of my job done instead halving my productivity for the sake of appearances. We’ll see how hard management pushes, but it’s really a choice between seeing my tired, sick, overworked ass in the office and letting me actually do my job (and the 2/3 of someone else’s job I have to do since they refuse to backfill).

      1. Anonym*

        To clarify, the setup is open office + hotdesking, with not enough lockers (yes, for real, think middle school but smaller) for the number of people assigned to the floor. And apparently, in NYC at least, the real estate cost savings are worth the resulting much-harder-to-measure productivity losses and employee attrition.

      2. anonymous73*

        I know WHY it’s being done and like I said it makes sense for frequent travelers or hybrid workers.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, my employer at the time crammed us into an open plan in 2018. It sucked – my commute was longer, the parking was worse, and my concentration and collaboration was crushed. When I shared an office the two of us could whiteboard stuff and not disturb anyone. In the open plan, the whiteboards were only in meeting rooms, none of the chairs, which were “standardized” for everyone (same chair for everyone, no matter their size or shape), fit me, my desk and drawers were half the size and I had no bookshelf.

        I objected, other people objected, and management gaslighted us saying “No one else has a problem” and “Everyone who’s tried it loves it”. Then they really insulted those of us who objected by arranging to have “resilience in the face of change” courses, implying that those of us who objected were just “change averse”. I was livid. I didn’t object because I was “change averse”, I objected because I’d worked in open plan before and knew it sucked! I also really, really resented the implication that I needed resiliency training to handle and office move when I was a stroke survivor who had to learn to walk and talk again, plus change careers! They “graciously” allowed us two days of work from home if we wanted it, but they said that anyone who lived withing 150 miles of the office had to work at least three days a week in the office. Yes, you read that right, they thought that anyone who lived within a 4 hour each way commute of the office had to come in to the office

        Then, in 2020, Covid hit, and we all went remote. I loved it. Then they laid a bunch of us off, due to budget problems. Funny enough, it was people who had objected or hadn’t been there over 5 years that they let go.

        I was out of work for a year. Because one of my housemates is immune compromised, I preferred to apply for remote jobs. I finally got work, remote, and it is life changing not to ever have to consider commuting again. I no longer have to travel around an hour or more each way to be subjected to other peoples sights, sounds, smells and judgements.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah, it’s about feeling comfortable. I had my kids drawings, inspirational crap, post-its to remind me of important stuff, all my big fat dictionaries, my slippers, my flip-flops, my biscuit drawer… I made myself thoroughly at home at work because that’s how I work best. The people who decide on hot-desking are not the ones having to hot-desk.

  4. Pants*

    In chatting with friends, I’m finding there are certain industries who are forcing their employees back into the office without regard for effectiveness while working from home. The bosses want to micromanage see faces.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Those managers are “butts in seats” fossils, instead of modern “results oriented” managers. It sucks, but eventually the leaner, more efficient “results oriented” workplace that is location independent businesses will win out because of efficiency and lowered expenses. (Not having to provide desks, fixed equipment, office space, HVAC, restrooms, break areas, etc is a HUGE cost savings, especially for a lean startup. It’s probably at least a one FTE level of savings.)

  5. kiki*

    This letter was such an interesting one to reflect on now that we’re in the later-stages of a pandemic that radically changed the face of office work. Sometimes I wish I had a spyglass into parallel universes to see what offices (and a lot of other stuff) would be like had there not been a pandemic.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Yeah, 2018 was about a million years ago, wasn’t it.

      We moved to a new office during the pandemic – this had been in the works for a while, and the plan was always to move to open concept/ no assigned seating. We started coming back to the (new) office in March 2022 – there was some grumbling at first, but it seems to be working pretty well as far as I can see. Technically we’re supposed to be onsite at least 2 days/week (on a set schedule), but I’m not sure how much anyone is enforcing that.

      The only problem now is the CEO has started talking about the joys of in-person collaboration, and making funny ha-ha jokes like “we hope to see you here in person – as often as possible, amirite?” So apparently he’s not entirely in favour of this new way of working. Hopefully he comes around, or at least somebody tells him to knock it off with the hilarious joking about full-time RTO. That way of working is gone, like it or not, and guaranteed there will be lots of people walking out the door if he pushes too hard.

  6. Eldritch Office Worker*

    “But reading this site, it’s seems some companies are going back there. I am somewhat hopeful alternatives will be more generally available. If I end up looking for another job in the future I’m very happy the concept of mostly- or entirely-remote work won’t be an exotic ask.”

    I think it’s going to be permanently more accessible, but not as widespread as some people hope. The big question right now is where is the ratio going to settle. Hybrid is working well for my office, but even people who enjoyed being fully remote during the pandemic admit that our work is much easier to do in person some of the time. I bet that’s truer for more people than it isn’t, but I also think there are a ton of roles where it should be completely optional (and people will have varying preferences!)

    One big win is I think remote work as a disability accommodation is going to swing WAY farther into the “reasonable” category than it was before.

    1. kiki*

      It will be interesting to see what happens with hybrid and how companies will organize to make in-office time genuinely useful. Like, if you’re requiring everyone to come into the office two days a week, meetings that benefit from collaboration and bouncing ideas off of folks should be scheduled for in-person. But I’ve seen so many companies require being in the office two days a week, but everyone comes in on different days and most meetings end up being virtual anyway.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        We did that pre-Omicron and it was a disaster. We have required days now and we expected a lot of pushback but everyone loves it – for exactly that reason, it feels like there’s a purpose to come in.

        1. kiki*

          Are the required days the same company-wide or on a team-by-team basis? I feel like some companies don’t want everyone to come in the same day because they don’t actually have the space (or want to invest in making space). An issue I’ve sen with the team-by-team basis approach is that there are folks who are on one team but work very closely with another. It would make the most sense for those two teams to come in on the same day, but then for whatever reason that doesn’t happen.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Company wide but we’re very small and the teams intersect a lot. But I can see different days being a real estate solution if companies need to downsize their real estate – you’d just need to have a good logistics person work the schedule out.

    2. ThatGirl*

      I started a new job in 2017, and when I started, most departments could WFH 1 or 2 days a week. But we got bought (had been owned by private equity) and the new owners were German and frowned heavily on WFH, so we were told that was being taken away, which made a lot of people upset.

      And then of course, covid hit, everyone got sent home, and … everyone did just fine working from home and now, two years later, most people are STILL working from home part of the time. Silly Germans. (I however do not work there anymore.)

      1. ThatGirl*

        And actually, my current company was very anti-WFH pre-covid, but they do recognize that times have changed, and now we have some fully remote workers and many hybrid workers.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, with 100% remote my disability isn’t even visible! People don’t see the cane, or the fact that I type with only one hand. I don’t have to worry about limping through three quarters of a football field worth of office just to dash to the bathroom. I don’t have to worry about someone seeing me and judging me for not dressing fem even though I’m non-binary. Sure, I have to deal with the sounds from the train that runs through my neighborhood, but that’s what the mute button is for on video calls.

  7. Susie*

    My office was one that shut down in March 2020 and then in days it was “work from home”, which was difficult to do. No one in this company had never worked from home, even executives, and the fact that we are technically a tourist attraction but classified as a educational nonprofit. I had no equipment and finally got a laptop with no camera 1.5 months in. Attending meeting via cell phone was interesting. I do have to say that our company was extremely generous about paying us full pay even when we might only do work for 2-3 hours a day and even paid our part-time staff, who couldn’t work from home, the same pay they would receive if they worked their normal hours.

    BUT, we immediately came back to the office as soon as our state allowed and have been here since. They used masks and social distancing measures from June 202-to March 2022 and encourage vaccinations. And now no masks unless you want to and we’ve had an uptick in exposures and positive cases.

    Working from home was difficult without the proper equipment, but my job could be done 90% remotely. I could come in for the weekly “big meeting” and the rest of the time work remotely.

  8. bluephone*

    “One thing that was surprising was the fact that, despite this supposedly being about “collaboration”, a lot of the time the shared spaces were pretty quiet, like a library. People whispered. People IM’d with the person sitting next to them rather than speak into the silence. If you did speak at a normal volume, you got the stink-eye from nearby people trying to concentrate”

    Pre-COVID (and pre-building renovation), my company was like that (all cubicles; only HR had actual, private offices). Honestly, the overall atmosphere kind of sucked. Turned out that having such tomb-like silence all day, every day, for no real reason is a huge morale killer (and modern libraries are not quiet anymore, not by a long shot)

    1. Elizabeth Bennett*

      This letter could have been written by any of my coworkers. Our company was growing, but our space was limited, and we went from some offices with open floor plan to all open floor plan with small conference rooms. The intent was never about collaboration, but my department is so noisy that the wall separating us from other departments was sorely missed. Our neighboring department, who needs to be on the phone tons more than we do, was very irritated with us and we were often told by another manager to quiet down. The company installed small speakers throughout the building and played white noise, which annoyed me to no end for the first few weeks.

      Then a pandemic and the company learned, “Oh! Employees can be productive and effective from home! That helps solve our space problem!” and anyone who had good performance reviews and could work remotely went remote! Hallelujah!

  9. soontoberetired*

    My company is doing that Hotel thing with desks since they expect most of us to stay remote, although there are rumors that some areas may force people back in. But the head of my division lives 1000 miles away, and shoot, I am retiring within the next 12 months. I have been in 3 times this spring, and it is mostly empty. the people who come in all tend to stay in the same spots for the 1 or 2 days they are in. so not much moving around.

    I have heard when there is a group in doing collaborative work, they can be disruptive to everyone else. If more people go back in that there is now, I suspect even more changes will have to occur.

  10. kittycontractor*

    I believe if the current prevalence of WFH is going to be tempered by regions and/or socioeconomic differences. WFH is not a big thing where I live. I believe I know one person who does it, everyone else is (or never left) back in office, however I live in a very red/Trump leaning area, so I suspect that is a big influence. I can also see how WFH may end up deepening a divide between lower, middle income and middle/high-middle income folks due to both job types and logistics (lack of suitable space in the home).

    On an aside, has anyone seen the WeWork (-like) businesses coming back at all? You would think that they would be really helpful for the semi-hybrid/hybrid worker.

    1. kiki*

      I definitely agree that WFH prevalence is region and socioeconomic position-dependent. I work in tech in the largest city in a blue state and most everyone I know, besides those in the medical profession, has been working from home. I went to college in a Southern red state and all my friends who still live there have been back in-person since summer 2020. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the idea of a “work-from-home revolution” but I think the reality is that something like only 20% of Americans switched to WFH during the pandemic. A significant percentage, but far from a majority.

      1. Flash Packet*

        I’m in a blue-ish purple city in a red state that competes with 2 other red states to be the most bigoted, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-science, authoritarian, Christian Nationalist state in the entire nation.

        I work for a manufacturing company in an “essential” industry. Our factories and warehouses never shut down and all of those people couldn’t WFH because their jobs can only be performed on site.

        But all of the corporate office (finance, accounting, legal, HR, etc.) job roles were remote from mid-March 2020 until March 1 of this year, when we returned with a permanent hybrid plan of 3 days in-office, 2 days WFH. We’ve been allowed a lot of leeway when it comes to actually showing up in the office for 3 days every week.

        Most of my friends in this state who have information/knowledge/brain jobs not only worked 100% remotely for the past two years, most only stop by their company’s office 1 day a week, tops, now.

  11. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I agree that WFH will be more accessible but not as widespread as hoped. The socio-economic-geographic divide is really apparent these days, especially as tech/security policies for WFH tighten up; so while a job can theoretically be done remotely, many people still aren’t able to do all of the functions of their jobs from their home. I could never really do my job from my apartment. Using WIFI is near impossible with all the interference from other apartments, even cell service is spotty and depends on the time of day, large file transfers, video calls and screen sharing was just frustrating and futile. My options for upgrading my internet are pretty well zero unless I move, and I’ll probably still have the same problems just in a different apartment.

  12. Antilla the Hon*

    I work remotely full-time. I thought I would really enjoy it since I am an introvert. Surprisingly, working from home is like being in an “adult time-out chair” for me. Working remotely is not all it’s cracked up to be and is very lonely. (Although I have to say I do enjoy wearing yoga pants and wearing a plain hairstyle every day!) The isolation is really messing with my head and Not a Good Thing for me. I live in a very small town so there is not much culturally or recreationally to do (other than exercise). So it’s like double isolation. I found that I do need some human interaction despite my introversion. I am back to looking for a job where I can go into the office regularly. Unfortunately, professional jobs in my town are extremely rare and the ones that are available pay retail/fast food rates (yet require a college degree).

    1. kiki*

      I am a fellow introvert who was also surprised by not loving WFH. I didn’t realize how much I benefitted from the structure going into an office provides. I had a built-in morning wake-up routine, a commute with time to read or listen to a podcast, and an obvious cut-off point for work (leaving the office before dinner). I’ve slowly but surely put together a routine that really helps, but the biggest issue I have is skipping it when I’m ultra-busy, which seems like the right choice in the moment but ultimately strains my productivity and mental health. My morning current routine starts with playing with my cats, taking a walk while listening to an audiobook or podcast, showering, and doing a lil grooming routine (even if I work in sweats and won’t be seen by another human soul). It’s really hard not to throw that out when I’m busy with work and just hop onto the computer 15 minutes after waking, but I’m getting better about it.

      I’ve done a decent job in recent months of assembling more social systems outside of work to ensure in-person interaction, but some days it is really weird to be working all day and look up from my computer at 7pm and realize I haven’t said a word to another person since a day or two before.

  13. Employee of the Bearimy*

    My former employer had a similar culture change when we moved from a space with all offices to one with all cubes. Where people used to pop in and out of each other’s offices without worrying that they would be disturbing other members of the team, suddenly everyone was afraid of being too loud talking in cubes and didn’t want to bother grabbing a huddle room down the hall, so cross-team collaboration tanked. Since we didn’t HAVE to work outside of our two-person teams to get the work done, our productivity was fine but we lost out on all of the institutional knowledge sharing and impromptu brainstorming we had done before that elevated our work.

  14. Always Happy*

    We went WFH back in March of 2020. There was talk about going back on site after the vaccine became available last year, and then talk of if you wanted to go into the office, you had to make a reservation and then a whole bunch of BS. I for one was ready to go back(I know, one of the few) but I know myself and I am more focused when I’m in an office setting, even if I am the only person in there…I blame my ADHD. Also, office is 3 miles from my house so when i was able to go back in, I’ve been going 3-4 days a week. Funnily enough, we were already working a hybrid schedule prior to Covid…the only thing that they are doing now is re-evaluating how many days you will be required to be on site.

  15. Flash Packet*

    OP’s description of the progression of open office space sounds like my ex-employer, one of the largest companies in the world and certainly in the smallish town in Arkansas where their corporate office campus is.

    The department I was hired into (in 2019) had had their 6-foot high cubes torn out in 2018 and sit-stand “picnic” tables put in. They didn’t go with hot-desking, but the rows and rows of tables with monitors being the only “walls” between people, was the most stressful work environment I have ever been in. (And I worked in a different state! I only had to be in there 2-3 times a year).

    Just like OP’s situation, everyone whispered. There were white noise machines installed on the ceiling to try to help, I dunno, mask conversations? But they were just these loud, droning things that made it feel like you were in a wind/rain/hailstorm all day, with the noise constantly poking at you. And there weren’t any windows.

    Then, having learned from the mistakes of our space’s conversion, the next building’s conversion was all light-colored wood, glass, windows, and sunlight. They broke up the space with glass-enclosed conference rooms (still no privacy, but at least the large-monitors and large white boards that were hung on the walls blocked some of the view from one end of the building to the other). There were also a ton of potted indoor plants that also worked as visual and audial breakers.

    I hope open floor plans die a quick, painful death.

  16. River*

    I quit a job because it was an open office layout. I knew it was open office going into the job. I liked the responsibilities of the job. I just could not handle having a desk in the middle of an open floor with no walls or cubicle to offer SOME privacy. I know some people can handle that and don’t care about privacy but as an introvert like myself, I did not like people just walking behind me or around me, especially when my back was to one of the manager’s office. I get it. A lot of businesses nowadays like the open office layout as it is supposed to promote easier communication amongst everyone. Yeah and there’s saving money on construction costs because you’re not building or buying walls/cubicles but at the same time employers will lose that money via employees through workplace distractions. Oh and I can’t forget to mention the ease of transmitting illnesses to others, exposure to various body odors, putting an undue pressure on employees to perform heavily, the list goes on and on. If open office layouts are in, then why do the execs and higher ups normally get their own offices anyway? Sheesh…

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I have articles and studies about how all of the “collaboration” and “openness” is just puffery and baloney. But these managers keep at it, because some architect/designer sold them a bill of goods.

      Sure, they save about 25% to 30% on real estate spending, but lose 25% to 50% in productivity, plus a 10% or more increase in sick days. The salary expense is always higher that the real estate expense, and the productivity damage of open plan is like throwing half of that salary money into a fireplace. So even if they save 25% on real estate, and only lose 25% of productivity, they are actually losing more cash value than they are saving. (I literally worked this out on a spreadsheet, using office rental prices from San Francisco, where real estate costs are high, and then low to middling engineer salaries there. Open plan loses more in productivity than in saves in real estate.)

      Management doesn’t want to listen. They want to look out over a sea of busy workers bees, slaving away on their digital assembly lines.

  17. That One Person*

    As far as I can tell the main thing companies like about open floor plans is that they can pack more desks in, but I agree that I don’t think it’d be a style for me (I’d purely want a corner desk anyways so I’m not flanked by people constantly like a middle plane seat).

    That said I’m sorry you can’t have some sort of “between” plan OP. When they started opening the office for people who’d been vaccinated to go in I know mum’s appreciated going in usually two days a week just for some potential human interaction (though sometimes she’s the only one on her floor or at least in her section as she may be the only one in her business unit in that day and the desks are separated as neighborhoods in a desk reserve program).

    You may have to find some outside interaction on a more casual level – one thing I think that’s helped mum is chatting with the people who frequent her dog park. She’s gotten to know regulars – especially the ones whose dogs are bffs with ours. It’s a little rougher right now with this nasty heat, but on the better days and mornings it’s made for some nice few hours of human interaction for her.

  18. OP*

    OP here. Thanks for all the commentary, on this and the original posting. A lot of what people have to say makes me wonder if we work at the some company! Especially Curmudgeon in California, who points out the ’emperor’s new clothes’/gaslighting messaging – oh, EVERYONE loves it? I’m just resistant to change? In my observation, the people vocally loving it are the same ones with their noses buried deeply into orifices. Also kiki’s comments regarding routine – I don’t want to even admit how often I skip the morning hygiene routine.
    Funny the way things work out, in life. At this point the thought of going back to an office every day, with all that entails, is unimaginable. This after decades of never considering there was an alternative.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, the messaging I’ve had at more than one company about transitioning to open plan has had the same level of lying and gaslighting. I’d leave for somewhere that hadn’t done it yet, only to have that place do it to us while blathering about “openness” and “collaboration”. I have several years worth of articles and actual studies with objective before and after data gathering that says the opposite is what happens.

      I also skip a lot of the morning grooming. Because I work remotely now I can put off my shower and stuff to the evening. I don’t have to make sure that my hair, face and clothes are spotless and without cat hair. Instead of getting up two or more hours before my shift starts, I can do 30 minutes and still be presentable for a meeting first thing.

  19. Nails*

    Our organisation swapped from open plan to open plan hotdesking in 2019. The organisation grew by several employees per department across a bureaucracy of departments, but was limited by the size of the building. To be completely fair, it’s hard to fit (say) 120 people on desks designed for 90. Especially when at any given time, 21 of them are away from their desk on some combination of vacation time, part-time working, site visits, meetings in other rooms/departments, away for training, etc etc. The management literally stood there and counted how many desks were empty for weeks, and presented it like: “you can’t be sooooo attached to your desk if you’re never at it! We can’t afford to have empty desks! Remember, your resistance is based in illogical emotional attachment, which is holding you back from being truly free of the constraints of space!” So it was renovated to seat 110 because only 100 were at their desks at any time, and 120 people were told to sit down wherever they could find space.

    And, yeah, technically, I guess that … makes sense. In a really demented logic. That doesn’t take into account that people like to work in comfortable environments. And the fact that people were encouraged to work flexible/offset hours, so the people who arrived at 8 and 9 always got desks, while commuters who arrived from far away at 9:30 often could not physically get a desk to sit at, and had to perch in meeting rooms, the lunch area, other departments, sit in hallways with laptops on their laps, or simply … go home again. Also, it turned out that there were unexpected peaks and troughs to when people were in the office, with teams doing things like “all taking vacation together between deadlines, leaving a skeleton crew” and then “nobody taking vacation during deadlines for large predictable pieces of work,” meaning that when everyone was in the office to meet deadlines, there was fighting over space and stress at the worst times possible.

    Anyway, despite the obvious reality of the situation (real estate), it was pitched as the future of collaborative working. We were told at length how we NEEDED to be resilient and change-embracing, and how our silly resistance was self-sabotaging, and our foolish “emotional attachment” to the outdated concept of personal workspaces was “holding us back.” We were told how flexible and fluid and collaborative it would be. As OP and others have said, it wasn’t. Higher-level managers seemed to like it, because they could stride around seeing everybody at a time, like a cowboy looking at cattle. But it was really, really difficult to work. It turns out that I personally really appreciate being able to just sit down and work, and the whole *locker/hotdesk/not having “territory”/having people behind me constantly/having my desk sniped if I’m away from it with my laptop* thing really unsettles and distracts me. I’m not saying that I really NEED to personalise a workspace with a potted plant or whatever, but it DOES help to feel that it’s my own space to do work in, and it felt waaaay too permeable and disruptive. The space was also so tiny that I was constantly moving my backpack, chair, drink, laptop, etc around because people would be kicking me from under the other side of the desk, moving their own stuff etc, like constantly sitting in the middle seat of an airplane.

    I will definitely say, though, it did a great job of severing my “emotional attachment.” I had gone from a job with my own permanent desk in a small cubicle in a small sub-office, to THIS job with hundreds of people in an open-plan, to this job switching to hundreds of people in an open-plan while hotdesking, and my emotional attachment DEFINITELY dwindled with each change. I went from someone who wept genuine tears of sadness while packing up my desk at my previous job, to a person who viewed my coworkers as jackals waiting to snipe my scrap of workspace and managers as vultures hovering over me, to the point where I didn’t feel comfortable wearing headphones and zoning out into my work, because they could come from any direction and kept giving me jumpscares.

    And then 2020 and fully remote work, obviously.

    And now they are basically begging, on their knees, crawling to get people back into this awful office situation. The once overcrowded situation is now a total ghost town. Most of the managers and senior staff think it’s more “collaborative” to be in the office and are really trying to pretty up the issue. Most of the people whose jobs require “putting their heads down to work” prefer to work from home because it was so unpleasant. All of this is predictable.

    The thing that I found the funniest was the fact that they are now trying to PUSH EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT TO THE OFFICE. “Didn’t you miss chatting to your coworkers?” NO. WE ACTIVELY COMPETED FOR THE SPACE TO WORK IN. THAT WAS NOT GREAT. “Wasn’t it great to be able to ask and answer questions?” WE DIDN’T DO THAT, PEOPLE HATED IT. WE SHUFFLED AWKWARDLY TO BREAK-OUT SPACES. AND WHEN WE GOT BACK OUR STUFF HAD BEEN MOVED. “How can you replace those spontaneous conversations?” UM, THEY WERE ALL NEGATIVE AND BITCHY AND CONSTANTLY EAVESDROPPED ON, AND IT ALL REALLY GOT ME DOWN. “Let’s bring back the good times!” WHAT, WHEN WE HAD COMFORTABLE WORKSPACES???? WE ARE STAYING HOME??? BECAUSE WE HAVE BETTER WORKSPACES?

    Anyway, sorry, I had a lot of feelings here. But we went from the “healthy severance of emotional attachment to the concept of your own desk” to “remember the wonderful emotions of having a desk in an office?” and it’s boiling over in me.

    1. OP*

      Ha! At my company, people from the consultants who sold them on this came around for about a week, walking around all day and counting how many hours people were/were not at their desks. So if someone was on vacation that week, that empty desk counted as being unneeded. At the end they presented this genius idea of only needing whatever percentage of actual work stations. Never mind that humans, as you put it, actually like a comfortable working environment, and do better if they have one. WHO COULD HAVE GUESSED.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      Oh that sucks! They want you to come back for the love of hot desking?? That’s just nuts!

      Party of what helps you feel like you ‘belong’ at a company is a sense of permanence. With remote, it’s the company equipment and the ever present office chat client. At an office, it’s literally territory, and the more firmly defined, the better. Sure, people who spend 90% of their time in meetings don’t “need” a desk, but that’s managers, not individual contributors. ICs need a place clearly defined, and peace and quiet to put their head down and work. They don’t get that in an open office, and they definitely don’t get that with hot desking. It needs at least full cubes, and by preference an actual office with a door.

      I won’t go back to an open plan, but they might entice me in with an office with a door. Maybe.

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