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Everyone hates open offices. Here’s why they still exist

By Fast Company

Employees don’t like them. Research proves they’re ineffective. Why is it taking so long for us to get rid of them? First, you tear down the walls and dispense with the soulless cubicles. Then youRead full story

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  • Open offices are "innovation theater". They allow executives at traditional companies to demonstrate how they are transforming and innovating when in reality all they are doing is moving chairs around instead of fixing large structural problems and existential threats.

  • "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."

  • Poom Poochaiyanont
    Poom PoochaiyanontFounder at Honesty.ai

    This is a very nuanced problem and I don’t think we can just make the assumption that “everyone” hates all open offices based on aggregated and incomplete data from a bunch of research. Some questions we should dive into-

    Who are the professionals likely to enjoy open office plan the most/least? (Engineers, Sales, Creatives, etc)

    What features of open office plan work well vs. the ones that are not working out? (Your back facing a wall or another person? One big table or separate tables?)

    What

    This is a very nuanced problem and I don’t think we can just make the assumption that “everyone” hates all open offices based on aggregated and incomplete data from a bunch of research. Some questions we should dive into-

    Who are the professionals likely to enjoy open office plan the most/least? (Engineers, Sales, Creatives, etc)

    What features of open office plan work well vs. the ones that are not working out? (Your back facing a wall or another person? One big table or separate tables?)

    What about open office plan where employees from different functions sit together vs. from same function? (Engineers sit with sales, Engineers sit with engineers)

  • the writer failed to mention—or conveniently forgot—that everyone hated their workplace in the days when select people had offices and everyone else were in cubes. so this notion that open plans ruined the workplace is crazy.

  • Max Lockie
    Max LockiePlatform Editor at Quartz

    It's cargo cult behavior. Google didn't succeed because they had an open office - but because they did now everyone else has to. Boo

  • Anita Egyir
    Anita EgyirGeologist

    I think I would always feel like someone is looking over my shoulder when I work. I honestly hate that feeling, so when it happens I slow down and get a little bit paranoid lol

  • I've yet to work in an open layout I really like unless there are areas that are semi private or areas you can go to and concentrate. I think where they're going wrong is having people sit shoulder to shoulder like at Buzzfeed here in NY.

  • Paul O'Brien
    Paul O'BrienCEO at MediaTech Ventures

    They still exist because the notion that everyone hates them is wrong. Sensationalist headline. People work in coffee shops in droves; you can't get any more open. Coworking is booming, often the same thing.

    Some people [employees] don't like them because their employer isn't doing much for them but giving them a paycheck... Closed office is a minor perk one expects for having to put up with an employer. People otherwise clearly love/prefer them - who the heck wants to sit in a cube by choice?!

  • John Battelle
    John BattelleproFounder at NewCo

    Come on. Open is great for some, bad for others. It's a choice not a damn requirement.

  • I have worked in an office for 10+ years and we moved to a location with open workspaces 3 years ago, now. Can confirm productivity is down.

  • Liz Webber
    Liz WebberNews curator at Quartz

    Being in a newsroom like Quartz it is nice to be able to chat quickly across a table about the latest breaking news. But I do still miss my cubicle from 2 jobs ago...

  • Steven Rodas
    Steven RodasReporter at machineByte

    Maybe it’s taking us longer than it should to figure out this doesn’t work because there’s only so many trends for workplace aesthetic. Then again ordinary office behavior might be aggravated in open-offices like loud-eaters, chatter, and employees dealing with personal matters.

  • This seems like a false dichotomy. Some parts of the office should be open for collaboration and other parts of the office should be closed for deep work.

  • It depends on the work and work style being conducted. I have sat in all different types of spaces for work. Personally I Iike whiteboards to surround me, but there are also times that I don't need them but require a silent separate space to really knock out work. Other times, working with the team in a small conference room either directly collaborating on a project or just as a small community individually tasked and focused. I find the larger, community, long-table, shoulder to shoulder open spaces

    It depends on the work and work style being conducted. I have sat in all different types of spaces for work. Personally I Iike whiteboards to surround me, but there are also times that I don't need them but require a silent separate space to really knock out work. Other times, working with the team in a small conference room either directly collaborating on a project or just as a small community individually tasked and focused. I find the larger, community, long-table, shoulder to shoulder open spaces to be too distracting. Others do too, because any real conversation in that environment, by definition, is designed to impact your neighbor. Most people are too conscious of impacting others to want to do that. But, then again, it depends...😋

  • Patricia Acheson
    Patricia AchesonCEO at T'HO Commodities: Coffee

    I think it’s best to have private offices, but with glass walls to imitate “togetherness “. As for SDR’s and entry level positions, i believe they should be in an open office so they feel comfortable to lean over to their peer and ask a question without having to get up and make a scene. Creates a good morale and allows them to bond as a team.

  • Che Hammond
    Che Hammond

    My last company was all open space and was definitely filled with distractions (even though there was only a max of 9 of us in the office). My current company has cubes and “phone booths”. The booths look a little space age but are actually very useful. I’m old enough to have worked at SGI back in the day where they had a policy of giving offices (with real closing doors and walls) to engineers. Guess the research says they were on to something!? Today I use my ear buds to tune everyone out.

    P.S

    My last company was all open space and was definitely filled with distractions (even though there was only a max of 9 of us in the office). My current company has cubes and “phone booths”. The booths look a little space age but are actually very useful. I’m old enough to have worked at SGI back in the day where they had a policy of giving offices (with real closing doors and walls) to engineers. Guess the research says they were on to something!? Today I use my ear buds to tune everyone out.

    P.S. I can’t help but think of Less Nessman (WKRP) when thinking about open space 😂

  • Jon Z
    Jon Z

    The graphic that conveys how Jobs fitted up hard-walled office for teams of 5-6 at Pixar is an interesting approach.... not sure I’ve seen that model in place anywhere else...

  • Ian Kerr
    Ian KerrProgram manager research, QI, administration

    People get stuck on new #innovations and forget to check if they are effective. Evaluate, assess, change.

  • Gotta wonder if open offices would work better if leaders invested more into a culture that leveraged the space. It does not just come from the space, culture arises from behaviors and buy-in.

  • Susanna Koczkur
    Susanna Koczkur

    There are open workstations offices but "some" status employees with private offices. (hierarchy lives on) There is less admin staff now as we are saddled with doing our own, so researchers and managers sit in open workstations and when you need to discuss research data, personnel, or with participants, people have to hope to find an empty room somewhere for necessary privacy.

    I work at home half my week due to the noise and lack of privacy to do my job in an open office space.

  • Phoebe Gavin
    Phoebe GavinGrowth Editor at Quartz

    The proliferation of open offices are the reason I refuse to take another job that isn't remote.

  • Mikal Lewis
    Mikal Lewis

    Everytime I see an article where productivity measured at the individual level—I can't help but feel that people don't know what productivity is or where it comes from.

  • It’s also tough to start putting walls back up once they have come down- it becomes a cultural statement, and brings back a visual hierarchy that could upset the office ecosystem. So the CEO can have a workspace like everyone else but in reality spend most of their time in an office that is labeled a conference room. The irony here is that the OTHER big innovation in the work space evolution has been the increasing acceptance of working from home- which is the ultimate space saver and cost efficiency

    It’s also tough to start putting walls back up once they have come down- it becomes a cultural statement, and brings back a visual hierarchy that could upset the office ecosystem. So the CEO can have a workspace like everyone else but in reality spend most of their time in an office that is labeled a conference room. The irony here is that the OTHER big innovation in the work space evolution has been the increasing acceptance of working from home- which is the ultimate space saver and cost efficiency- and has all the privacy benefits lacking in the open office plan.

  • Michael Litman
    Michael Litman@mlitman

    And replace with what?

  • Yuni Wakamatu
    Yuni Wakamatu

    Even in wall free enviroments,there are clearly distinction between positions.

  • William Wood
    William WoodOwner at William Wood

    Why? Because businesses like them. They are cheaper and allow observation.

  • Steve Nevins
    Steve Nevins

    Could NO ONE have anticipated the negatives of everyone working at the same table and same space? It blows my mind that our society makes changes just for the sake of change. The new generation needs to be able to analyze established procedures and determine if those procedures are, indeed, the most efficient way.

  • Dee Howard
    Dee Howard

    Open offices are a big security threat. Too much information are exposed to the naked eyes all around, no privacy as it relates to PII or SPI.

  • Eve  Destiny
    Eve Destiny

    Full of facts from my own experience. These environments are unpleasantly chaotic.

  • Dyson Lu
    Dyson Lu

    Low cost but also mutual surveillance. What is there not to like for the corporate masters? Some companies took the cost cutting scheme even further: “flexible desk” — employees are no longer assigned a desk. Instead, they pick one when they come in every morning. No more free desk because you arrived late? Too bad but you have to sit on the bench at the large cafeteria table.

    Open floors with bright fluorescent lighting. It’s like those industrial egg production hen houses. In trying to keep some

    Low cost but also mutual surveillance. What is there not to like for the corporate masters? Some companies took the cost cutting scheme even further: “flexible desk” — employees are no longer assigned a desk. Instead, they pick one when they come in every morning. No more free desk because you arrived late? Too bad but you have to sit on the bench at the large cafeteria table.

    Open floors with bright fluorescent lighting. It’s like those industrial egg production hen houses. In trying to keep some level of focus (and sanity), some people have headphones on all workday long.

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