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The Open Office Is Destroying the Workplace 420

HughPickens.com writes: Lindsey Kaufman reports in the WaPo that despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country, with about 70 percent of U.S. offices having no or low partitions. Silicon Valley has led the way — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisted famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers within a single room that stretches 10 acres. Michael Bloomberg was another early adopter of the open-space trend, saying it promoted transparency and fairness. Bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees, ensuring clandestine porn-watching, constant social media-browsing and unlimited personal cellphone use isn't occupying billing hours.

But according to Kaufman, employers are getting a false sense of improved productivity. A 2013 study showed many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem, and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. The New Yorker, in a review of research on this nouveau workplace design, determined that the benefits in building camaraderie simply mask the negative effects on work performance.

While employees feel like they're part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers' attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction says Kaufman. "Though multitasking millennials seem to be more open to distraction as a workplace norm, the wholehearted embrace of open offices may be ingraining a cycle of underperformance in their generation," writes Maria Konnikova. "They enjoy, build, and proselytize for open offices, but may also suffer the most from them in the long run."
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The Open Office Is Destroying the Workplace

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  • Well duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 50000BTU_barbecue ( 588132 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:09PM (#48701593) Homepage Journal

    The "open office" is just cost-reduction masquerading as some sort of innovation.

    It's the march towards ever less expenses to allow more profit to funnel to the few.

    And the many embrace it. The few have managed to get the many to embrace their own destruction.

    • Re:Well duh (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:35PM (#48701739)
      Les Nessman solved this problem years ago.
    • Re:Well duh (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @11:15PM (#48701937)

      And the many embrace it. The few have managed to get the many to embrace their own destruction.

      Which is good. They'll get outcompeted by people who don't force their workers into unproductive hovels.

    • Re:Well duh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by currently_awake ( 1248758 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @11:42PM (#48702055)
      More likely it's managements desire to see the workers, every single minute of the work day. It's a symbol of America's unwillingness to trust the workers.
      • Re:Well duh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bill Dog ( 726542 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @01:58AM (#48702651) Journal

        The desire to see the expensive workers, that is. I.e. the ones getting benefits and making salaries commensurate with the cost of living in America.

        Tell a manager that some function is being handled offshore by cheap foreign labor, and the trust issue seems to go completely away.

      • Re:Well duh (Score:5, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @02:50AM (#48702827)

        It's a symbol of America's unwillingness to trust the workers.

        I have lived, and worked, in nine countries, including Asia, Europe, and Central America. I have found that America is where workers are trusted the most. What country have you worked in where workers are more empowered to make decisions, and trusted to act independently? None that I have been to.

        • Re:Well duh (Score:5, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @03:04AM (#48702891)

          I have lived, and worked, in nine countries, including Asia, Europe, and Central America.

          I might be more inclined to believe you if you didn't call Asia, Europe and Central America countries.

        • Re:Well duh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Klivian ( 850755 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @08:50AM (#48704087)

          What country have you worked in where workers are more empowered to make decisions, and trusted to act independently?

          Obviusly you have newer worked in scandinavia. From experience it seems the Americans tend to go for more bureaucracy and shuffle all requred descissions up in the system. And you often get the impression it's more important to cover your own ass, than get things done.

        • Re:Well duh (Score:5, Interesting)

          by urbanriot ( 924981 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:26AM (#48704327)

          What country have you worked in where workers are more empowered to make decisions, and trusted to act independently?

          Germany, Austria and Switzerland for three. Throughout many joint projects I've worked with self-motivated people that crush through a work day focused on their tasks and the work environment is irrelevant. They could be in a private office or a conference room packed with people, these Europeans are still doing what they need to do. Americans on the other hand, give them a private room and they may do their work but their web logs often show otherwise. Anyone ever evaluated and stacked up web logs of Germans to those of Americans? The latter always encourages me to wonder why 1 out of 7 men can't obtain porn on a home computer and how they can feel comfortable viewing it in a work environment.

          • Anyone ever evaluated and stacked up web logs of Germans to those of Americans?

            I've worked for a German company as a sysadmin - it stacks up about even, with a heavy bias towards Germans surfing for the unauthorized bits as you move lower down the pay scale. Mind you, they were in the US at the time, so maybe they treated it as a bit of a break from the usual, but still...

            To be fair though, most of the developers and higher-ups on the German side didn't bother at all (then again, more than a few of them were too busy getting it on with the secretaries, coworkers, and other female staf

    • Mostly managers complain about open floor plans because they have to actually prove that they have an entire day's worth of work to do and justify their salary.

      • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) *

        Mostly managers complain about open floor plans because they have to actually prove that they have an entire day's worth of work to do and justify their salary.

        What, does it become obvious how quickly they can complete their MBWA circuit?

    • The "open office" is just cost-reduction masquerading as some sort of innovation.

      I don't think so. The burdened cost of an engineer at my company is $10k per month. The floor space for a cubicle or open office desk costs $100/month and the space for a small private office costs $200/month. So if the private office results in even a 1% productivity increase, it is worth it. But does it?

      My experience is that some people work better in quiet offices, others are more productive in open offices. I need a quiet office when I am coding something complicated, but for going through email, o

      • Re:Well duh (Score:4, Interesting)

        by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @06:24AM (#48703525) Journal
        I think the productivity increase of private offices is vastly more than 1%. There's a direct increase: all of my co-workers claim that they get way more work done at home, and looking at what actually leaves their hands when working from home, I can believe it. I have the same experience myself. There is also an indirect increase: it's well known that a noisy and distractive environment kills concentration and creativity; doing a job that requires your full attention in such an environment results in a higher error rate, requiring rework or costly fixes.

        Neither of these factors are taken into consideration when management decides to opt for open-plan, or they think that the benefits outweigh this loss in productivity. They think collaboration is key, and that open-plan serves collaboration best. Now it is true that open offices do encourage and speed up knowledge sharing, but some research shows [no citation given, do your own homework] that the value of collaboration vs. solo working is overestimated... and open-plan offices aren't even all that great for collaboration: you need a lot of quiet booths and breakout rooms as well. A lot of my co-workers complain about noise and distractions in our office even when they are on teleconferences, wearing a headset. And when they get distracted, they are more tempted to open a browser and get distracted even more. I notice the same thing: in teleconferences at work I tend to goof off; at home I am actually paying attention.

        Doing small coding jobs or reading email in an open office is not as bad as doing focused coding where you need "flow" , but I still prefer a quiet workplace for those tasks. Email is important (or I'd leave my out of office reply on permanently) and it requires my full attention. The social interaction at the office is nice and helps with the job, and I limit my working from home to 2 days a week, but in the end I go to work to work. For productivity, I wager that most knowledge workers would greatly benefit from private offices, with meeting rooms, bullpens and coffee corners to socialize.
    • by Hodr ( 219920 )

      When my office was "re-aligned" under another division we were also moved to another building and went from 10x12 cubes with windows to a basement bullpen. The first thing I did was get a screen filter for my computer monitor, the second thing I did was start taking all of my phone calls on speaker. I also encouraged others in my area to do similar.

      2 Months later we had brand new office furniture including cubicles. Only 8x8 this time, but still much better than the open room format.

    • by jbengt ( 874751 )
      "I think Open Office" needs to be defined before everyone rails against them.
      I've designed the mechanical systems for dozens, if not hundreds of what the architect labeled as "Open Office", but they almost always had workers in individual cubicles with partial height partitions at least as high as seated eye level. (Although in the call centers I've worked on, 4 workstations would be in a typical cubicle, but arranged so the workers faced away from each other.)

      I've never worked in anything but an open
  • by Kazoo the Clown ( 644526 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:09PM (#48701595)
    Managers have no confidence in themselves-- they know they are incompetent at motivating people so they have to resort to big-brother intimidation techniques and vacuous pep rallys with inane slogans and sports metaphors. It then becomes self-fulfilling for the most part, you get what you pay for...
    • by SimonInOz ( 579741 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @01:08AM (#48702453)

      Micromanagement == Agile.

      Sorry, back to open offices.
      The problem here is a clash between the qualities useful for office politics (cooperation, social interaction, group activities, knowledge of multiple projects, multi-tasking), and the ones actually required for getting intellectual work done (concentration, single mindedness, long periods of interruption-free abstraction).
      For project design, architecture, debugging, etc, the effective person is not the one leaping up and down, having meetings, calling people ... no, it's the one sitting rather quietly thinking "if we did it this way, we'd save 5 years of work".

      The whole thrust of "office design", and office working techniques, is aimed at extroverts. Extroverts make rotten programmers, designers, and they tend not to be especially innovative. Management is appropriate for extroverts - and, as we know, people promote people like them ... and even hire them.

      So basically, if you are a quiet, bright, introvert, you are probably brilliant at your job - and almost unemployable.

      Bummer, eh?

  • I hate it (Score:5, Informative)

    by mamba69 ( 3943681 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:10PM (#48701599)

    Constant noise and distraction, getting interrupted 1000 times by co-workers. It leads to starting some tasks over and over and forgetting about others.

    Bad idea, created by "Twitter Generation"

    • Constant noise and distraction...

      Yes, it sucks. But it's not going away. The competent developer needs to solve their problem. Generally by not trying to write code in such an environment. Write documents, have phone calls, pick your nose, whatever. But when you need to write code, go somewhere else where the noise and/or interruptions are not directed at you. I go home, or the corner of the cafeteria after rush hour. I get lots of code written on long plane journeys, so I plan ahead to be able to take advantage of that (I.E. using tools I

      • So I take it your employer gives you equal time out of the office to accomplish this? If not, it doesn't sound like a solution, just more of a time-suck.
    • Re:I hate it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:46PM (#48701825)

      Bad idea, created by "Twitter Generation"

      You really need to review your history. The open office has been around for centuries, if not millennia. Mind you back then the Monks weren't allowed to speak. And that doesn't even touch on Dicksian nightmares and the middle of last century. What is new is people not shutting the fuck up and annoying everyone else.

      • Working on the factory floor or a sweat shop is not the same as doing a job that involves person to person interaction.
        • Working on the factory floor or a sweat shop is not the same as doing a job that involves person to person interaction.

          For intellectual activities like programming you don't always need that second person. At my favorite previous employer we each had our own small office but two chairs for each. When useful two would pair up to accomplish something but usually we were in our own offices concentrating on different tasks. When stuck or needing a second pair of eyes one would invite someone over.

          Of my dozen or so teammates we all preferred this arrangement. We visited a company we were acquiring and they had an open floor p

      • The "open office" plan has also been MOCKED for almost as long. cf. "The Crimson Permanent Assurance", a Monty Python spoof in which office drones in exactly that sort of "open office" make the office manager walk the plank, and then sail their office building into pirate battles against other insurance companies. Even by Monty Python standards, it was silly. Almost as silly as "open offices".

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        I once had a job in a much smaller version of that; one big cubicle with worksta

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by azcoyote ( 1101073 )
        Even monks tended to have private monastic cells [google.com] where they went throughout the day to pray alone.
  • Fine! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:10PM (#48701603)
    *uninstalls OpenOffice and installs a crazy outdated version of StarOffice*
    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      *uninstalls OpenOffice and installs a crazy outdated version of StarOffice*

      I might have a copy of wordstar [wikipedia.org] lying around if you want to go more retro, but you'll have to supply the CP/M system to go with it.

      • 'electric pencil' for me, please.

        GOML

      • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

        I'd be happy with a text version of Word Perfect actually.

        [John]

      • If you like wordstar, install joe on Linux. It has the same commands. Which is why, after 30 years, I am still using it to edit things when I am in a command shell. I hate Unix machines where only vi is installed. joe forever!

        On my Desktop I do use sublime text and sometimes TextMate

  • Open Office Space (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Irate Engineer ( 2814313 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:11PM (#48701609)

    Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door - that way Lumbergh can't see me, heh heh - and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour.

    Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?

    Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I'm working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.

  • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:12PM (#48701617)

    I had a programming job in an open office with the boss on the phone faking jovial, garrulous laughter in sales calls all day long when he wasn't coming over to refocus our efforts many times a day and ask how long that would take.

    Needless to say, I got more productive development done (on my hobby project/next business) in the private office of the back seat of the bus for half hour in the morning and evening. A bus can be noisy (and you have to hang on to your laptop for fear of sudden stops), but it beats the open plan office by a long shot anyday.

    • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:47PM (#48701831)
      I've found that the only 'open' floorplan that works is when it's grouped for small teams with their own walls separating them from other teams. That allows the team to communicate effectively when they need to without having to get up and walk to someone else's office, but also gives a degree of privacy to the members of the team, so long as they're comfortable with each other.

      That last statement is critical, I've seen some groupings work very poorly because of particularly boisterous people that could be heard through multiple closed doors as they didn't understand that their outside voices weren't necessary for a telephone call, or people that conduct way too much personal business on the phone while in the office. I've also seen teams whose work areas became the hangout for the department, which also destroys productivity.

      It can work, but it requires conditions to be right to make it work.
      • by Gordo_1 ( 256312 )

        Oh come on. What's the harm in putting say inside sales reps next to Engineers? The proximity of sales reps will motivate the developers to code harder because they can hear all the lies they tell first-hand! It's practically a direct feed to customer feedback, and cuts out the need for a Product Manager!

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      I had a programming job in an open office with the boss on the phone

      I once had a job in a cube farm, and my nearest neighbor was a wanna be local politician who was always on the phone talking himself up. You don't need to be in an open office to be annoyed by that shit.

  • Totally Agree (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:14PM (#48701621)

    Besides the distracting perpetual background noise, the feeling of being constantly on display is fairly unnerving.

    Web browsing on company time is a self correcting problem. It's accepted (at least where I work) that quick breaks throughout the day are almost a necessity. I usually do so when I get hung up or frustrated by something. A quick glance through any one of several sites I frequent gives my brain a break, and then I find I can get back at it. People who abuse this excessively become less productive.

    You don't need an open office to notice the guys who arn't pulling their weight. Whether it's because they are on facebook all day, or because they just arn't very good doesn't matter much. If they are still doing an appropriate amount of work for their grade, they'll probably stay on anyway but their career is going nowhere. If they arn't, they're probably out the door sooner or later. Ultimately the first performance enhancement meeting (not making that up) is usually a wakeup call.

    • by lucm ( 889690 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:33PM (#48701723)

      Web browsing on company time is a self correcting problem. It's accepted (at least where I work) that quick breaks throughout the day are almost a necessity. I usually do so when I get hung up or frustrated by something. A quick glance through any one of several sites I frequent gives my brain a break, and then I find I can get back at it.

      Last year I spent a few months working on site for a client that has a zero tolerance policy for personal use of internet. When I learned about this I was horrified and almost declined the contract, but as soon as I started working there I found out that not only did my productivity improve, my general mood also improved. Hours flew by even if the project was not that interesting. At the end of the day I had more energy, and I also took more pleasure in non-work activities in the evening.

      I am not kidding. Try it for a week: no personal email, no personal web browsing, no funnies, nothing like that during business hours (including the phone). Also cut the chitchat and the gossiping around the watercooler (or espresso machine). You won't believe how better you will feel. It's almost zen.

      • Re:Totally Agree (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:41PM (#48701781)

        nope, sorry. won't ever take a job like that unless I'm 6mos late with the rent and have no other option.

        try to control me to that level and you will fail. and you won't get anyone worth having, either, as only sheep will put up with such treatment.

        modern life means that personal stuff 'happens' and it happens while at 9-5, too. to say 'no' to this is rude and inconsiderate and I want NO PART of any boss or company that disrespects me to that level.

        tl;dr; show-stopper. I won't take a job like that and neither should anyone, here.

        • by Shados ( 741919 )

          You'd be surprised. Now, don't get me wrong, I worked at a company like that and quit pretty quick because I couldn't stand it. But there's a lot of people out there (a lot!) who are dedicated enough in their work that they'll happily be at 100% from 8 to 7 every day. These people just all work at the same places.

          I mean, its not too surprising: there's a lot of jobs where you can't access your phone aside during breaks...and any job where you have to run/stand around all day didn't exactly let you do person

      • I do this when I go on vacation... no email or internet or anything. It's funny how you'll be off the grid for 2 weeks, and when you come back you didn't miss a damn thing :p
  • ... such as when working remotely or in a place away from distraction. It allows me to prioritize tasks that I need to accomplish vs tasks someone else wants me to do for something they need to accomplish. Mostly though my work is autonomous in nature and doesn't require a whole lot of collaboration. I can see how the open office is essential for teams where work is accomplished in a real time collaborative effort. I hear rumours my employer will soon move to the open office model, would be interestin to se
  • Kill it with fire! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:18PM (#48701641)

    15 years ago the president of the company was all "This is the future! Ad hoc meetings when necessary everyone shuts up and does their work otherwise!"

    Now it's incessant screaming over each other at the phone as people are trying to conference call, speaker phone call, crack up at jokes and argue with each other while trying to be louder than everyone else. And the president comes and paces back and forth behind me for minutes on end before I finally crack and ask him what he wants.

  • Reinventing history (Score:5, Informative)

    by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:24PM (#48701665)

    The cube farm was invented as response to the problems of the open office. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way and people wonder why problems are cropping up?

    The office cubicle was created by designer Robert Propst for Herman Miller, and released in 1967 under the name "Action Office II". Although cubicles are often seen as being symbolic of work in a modern office setting due to their uniformity and blandness, they afford the employee a greater degree of privacy and personalization than in previous work environments, which often consisted of desks lined up in rows within an open room.

    Cubicle [wikipedia.org]

  • by Rick Zeman ( 15628 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:31PM (#48701705)

    "Though multitasking millennials seem to be more open to distraction as a workplace norm.

    More open to distraction, sure, but not more productive because of it. The brain just doesn't work that way.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @11:20PM (#48701959)

      I used to be one of those 'multitaskers'. I took pride that I could crank on 3-4 things at a time.

      It took me years to figure out I was doing 3-4 things badly. I now deliberately do 1 thing at a time. I make everyone set the priority they want. I make it CLEAR they what they are costing (time, money, resources). I use the scrumm burndown list method to focus my boss. I also make it clear that spinning people off task for that brain fart you had this morning costs productivity. I do not use online burndown tools on purpose. Most of them are exceptional at what they do. I can use it with some people to good effect. But my current boss seems to forget to actually manage it. So I use a manual process to put it in front of him. As it is in front of him as he is a 'swing by' kind of boss. "lets check the list" is a very good way for him to figure out what to do.

      Multitasking is just a way of telling your workers you do not care about priority. Not everything can be at the top of the list. *SOMETHING* must be bellow the top. It may be a close call but you have to decide. In the words of the highlander there can be only one. Not everyone will be working on the top of the priority list either. Some will be getting number 2 and number 3 underway. However, something must be #1.

      If you do not make it clear what people should do you get people wandering off task to do other things. Micromanaging is a symptom of trust issues that are fed by them finding you doing other things. People wander off because they were not told properly up front what the priority was. It all feeds on itself.

    • I suppose it really depends on the job you're all trying to do. If your work is very collaborative, analytical/consensus based, and has a lot of bouncing ideas back and forth, then a more open space might be best. If your work depends on you being able to concentrate on a task however, you need to be able to shut out distractions, and an "open" format is going to be a serious drag on your productivity.
      • I even find cubicles to be a drag. During the 7 years I spent surrounded by 3 partitions, I spent the vast majority of the time in that chair wearing headphones to block out as much of the environment as possible.

  • At what point does a bad office layout drive you to seek new employment? It might seem ridiculous at first cut, but if you work in a terrible office, it really drags on you. And, better yet, how does one find out at a new job exactly what the work environment is like? Interviews are not usually done near the cube farm. Do you ask to see an example section of the building?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by VonSkippy ( 892467 )

      Yes - I've turned down two solid offers in 2014 (both with a minor 10%ish package increase but more interesting research, at least more interesting to me) because the position did NOT come with dedicated office space. I agreed to do a followup interview and stated in no uncertain terms the entire reason for me refusing the offer was the open layout of their lab. The 30-something HR person looked at me like I had just grown two heads. Depending on your career level and path, your mileage may vary.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by czth ( 454384 )

      I have turned down offers in part because I'd be in an open layout office. In one case I would have had a couple feet of desk space at a long desk in a huge room. Heck, since he's mentioned in the article header and it was a few years back I don't mind saying it was at Bloomberg, doing C++ development; the work appeared great and the people that interviewed me seemed to know their stuff; and recently (so obviously it wouldn't have impacted me back then, but as a point of interest) I saw a couple of John Lak [youtube.com]

  • A solution (Score:5, Funny)

    by sls1j ( 580823 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:35PM (#48701735) Homepage
    I think one of these [citizenbrooklyn.com] would be helpful in an open work space.
  • by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:35PM (#48701741)

    Surprisingly there is not a one size fits all solution for laying out peoples work environments!

    Believe it or not there are some jobs where open plan offices are significantly better than cube farms or closed personal offices. And there are jobs where half way setups, ie small open plan offices of teams work better than large spaces or singular offices.

    If you are in a sales role then open plan works a large amount of the time. If you are in a role where you are primarily focussed on your screen and writing something then smaller offices tend to work better.

    If you can realise that not everyone's job is even similar, let alone the same, you will be able to understand that different layout will suit some more than others.

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:38PM (#48701767)

    Kill me with a rusty spoon...

    I am absolutely fed up with the... what's it now? 3 year cycle? of what's productive?

    I work in a 12 floor building with 3 wings. I've been on every floor of every wing.
    Before this I worked for a much much bigger company that had 2 wings but only 1 floor. I sware to god I sat in every cube in that building for at least a week.

    STOP MOVING ME

    I don't care how tall my cube is, or how much privacy there is. I guarantee that, no matter where you sit me I'll be between that 70yr old dude that needs to stop by 3x per day to tell me how things weren't this bad back when he did Cobol... and by that kid that's an intern that refused to admit that Ruby on Rails isn't new and poised to take over the world. Just stop, I don't want to move anymore. I literally keep a red flag over my desk so the people that need to find me can find me. I just tell them the floor, they stand on their tippy toes and... oh... there's Charlie!!! That's ridiculous. I don't care where I sit, just stop changing where I sit!!! Preferably place be half way between the Coffee/Soda and the bathroom but otherwise I have no preference.

  • by ShaunC ( 203807 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:42PM (#48701795)

    Lack of partitions is a dealbreaker for me. I will not work in a space where everyone sees everyone all the time and there is no private space. Period. I will not work on an open floor plan.

    I'm not asking for my own office with a door that closes. I've never had that, and I don't expect it. I understand that I'm at work and that I have no real expectation of privacy. But we're all human, and I'm not comfortable sitting around where anyone can see what I'm doing at all times. Maybe I'm reading Slashdot for a few minutes, maybe I'm on StackExchange asking or answering something work-related, maybe I'm checking my personal email. Maybe I'm reading a white paper from a vendor, with my arm propped up on the desk while I gradually scroll through. As long as my work is being done and my employer is happy, there's no reason the rest of the floor should have a view of me, or vice versa.

    Believe it or not, there's a happy medium. Partitions. Cubicles. They were implemented for a reason. I need some walls that extend several feet above my seated position and on all sides, which give me enough privacy to disregard the rest of the office for awhile. I'm never going to absorb a 30-page protocol spec if I'm exposed to every motion of everyone else around me. That's distracting. I have to have a bit of isolation in order to concentrate. I can mentally tune out things like telephones ringing, coworkers talking, etc. but in order to be truly productive, I need my cube partitions. I don't work in a restaurant, I don't want my workplace to resemble a restaurant.

    This isn't about browsing porn at work, or spending all day on social media. I have no trouble with my company logging everything I do; I'm at work, after all. I just need some personal space to do what I'm paid for. I will not work on a big glass floor.

  • As an enginner my ideal work environment would consist of communal spaces were you can talk and interact with other people to brainstorm and review ideas. Kind of like a coffee shop vibe with whiteboards and projectors or TV's where you can share your screen. Then also have places similar to quiet study rooms at college where you can hide away when you really need to focus on detailed tasks. I run relativly resource intensive CAD software and it easily runs these days on a $2k laptop. Any intensive FEA gets

  • by mike2006 ( 947377 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @10:47PM (#48701837)
    Every time I read an article that mentions Zuckerberg I know it is going to contain some idea, process or plan I am going to hate. Zuck is the worst possible CEO to have so much power which we know translates to the tech industry following his lead and also legislation. It is dbags like the Zuckerbergs that make me want to get out of tech since with people following their lead things are only going to get worse for the rest of us.
  • by DutchUncle ( 826473 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @11:00PM (#48701879)
    Every study ever done, every paper written by smart and productive people, says that knowledge workers need private spaces for concentration, and separate conference spaces for conferencing. The wide-open "collaborate all day" space sounds like hanging around the water cooler all day. At the cube farm I'm in now, I have a 7-foot wall between me and a main corridor; but people stop in the corridor junction and schmooze to the point that I can't hear myself think.

    I worked at one place where the VP brought in Tim Lister for a 2-day "boot camp" seminar, and insisted that a new building have 1- or 2-person offices for engineering (no bigger than a typical cubicle or two, but an enclosed office!) (with common lab areas for test equipment). Heck, the accounting department and legal department and HR all got private offices (bigger ones) - why not the people doing the work that brought in money?
  • Last job as a bench tech, I'd finish the required work, then do my own projects.
    The in shelves were empty, the out shelves were full, customers were happy,
    but the boss let me go.
    Now I can listen to Frank Zappa loud through speakers instead of quiet ear buds.

    "I'm a happy guy now on the day shift at the utility muffin research kitchen,
    arrogantly twisting the sterile canvas snoot of a fully-charged icing anointment utensil."

  • I can only assume that "retina cubicles" will soon be distributed among the staff. They only hurt if you struggle.

  • I was lucky to only spend a small amount of my career dealing with the cube farm, in do computer research work.

    Everyone used closed-ear headphones. In theory, people were listening to music, but many people including myself, used them regardless to both block sound and visually indicate to others "I can't hear you".
     

    • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
      But (as that article mentions), good distractions are the ones that aren't important and don't involve interactions. Having your coworker come chat for a bit isn't a distraction you can ignore (politely).
  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @11:29PM (#48701993) Journal

    Currently I have my own office and each of my coworkers has their own. We each naturally work mostly with one or two other people through the day - the two graphic designers work together, etc. Some coworkers spend MOST of their time in their associate's office visiting^H^H^H^H collaborating. Other's less so, but it seems most of us feel the need to get out of our office and go see another human face at some point in the day.

    I think I preferred the setup at my previous company, where two or three people were in a large office, with their backs to each other. Nobody was looking at you, and you didn't see anyone, until you turned to talk to them. I could focus on my work, and they on theirs, but they could also easily ask me a question, and I could notice when one of my people was having a rough day, or just just a stressful hour. We could focus on our work, but when one person was clearly getting stressed about stupid customers we could go for some frozen custard and come back 15 minutes later in a better mood.

    Where I am now, my boss's office is next to mine. We office shout to one another rather than using instant messenger or getting out of our chair. It'd be easier if she was eight feet away at the other end of a large office. On the other hand, maybe I wouldn't want my boss in my office all the time - at my last company I WAS the boss. :)

    • Yep, this is my experience too - 2 people to an office, 3 at a real push. That's just enough that you can have the occasional casual conversation, rubber duck ideas, have a screen break, etc, but not enough that it's just constant noise.

  • by mallyn ( 136041 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @11:32PM (#48702011) Homepage
    At Boeing Airplanes in Renton, Washington in 1980, there was one large room with 80 engineers.

    Each engineer had a desk. No deviders or walls.

    All of the desks faced the same direction.

    At the front of the room was a raised platform (about 1 foot high). On that platform sat the managers.

    Four engineers shared one phone. That phone was on a swing arm that would swing in a circle above the four desks.

    Oh, and I forgot. Your desk had to be completely bare when you left in the afternoon. And you do not want to be caught reading a newspaper anytime after the whistle blows at 8 AM.

    • damn, that sounds almost straight out of "Equilibrium". All that's missing is the forced injects to keep everyone from going postal.
    • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @12:46AM (#48702339)

      there was one large room with 80 engineers.

      Only 80? In Everett, we had about 400 in one room (a big f*cking room).

      We used to call people who sat some distance away rather than walk over. The etiquette was to turn and face each other across a few hundred feet while conversing on the phone. On more than one occasion, I'd crack up the person I was talking to by whipping out a pair of binoculars.

  • it was about saving money on office space. With the economy tanking and all signs pointing to things only getting worse for workers employers can dump on them as much as their want. Don't like it? Good luck finding a new job.
  • by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @11:38PM (#48702043)
    If it's a large company, say Boeing, Lockheed, GE, etc, you often have several business units in a particular site. Those BUs often pay rent to the main office for their floor space. Open offices greatly reduces these charges back helping them meet their profit goals. Reduce it enough and they can knock down/rebuild some walls and get the extra building space classified at a lower tax rate. It's all about them saving money. You can't win this fight in this case unless people start leaving. But at this point you're just considered a replaceable widget anyway.
  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @11:47PM (#48702075)

    Doesn't everybody on /. use LibreOffice nowdays

  • by Shados ( 741919 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @11:47PM (#48702079)

    We had that discussion at work today over that article. Several people pointed out they were far more productive alone, with the lights off, in a corner, than at their desk and that it proved the open floor plan was bad.

    (We're talking software engineers)

    My personal take is: almost anyone (who doesn't need babysitting) will be more productive alone in a distraction free area. That is, more productive doing the part of the job that a monkey can do. I can bang out thousands of lines of code very quickly if no one's bothering me, sure.

    But here's the catch: that's not the hard part of the job. (almost) anyone could do that. The hard part is the design, architecture, problem solving. Most of the time, those are better done in group. They may seem worse sometimes: arguing feels counterproductive and a waste of time. But no one's perfect and no one knows everything, so being able to bounce off ideas from the person next to you at will can prevent million dollar mistakes. Once the problem is solved, and just typing code as quick as possible is the only thing left to do, sure, work from home if you want, but don't fool yourself that you're doing anything worth a lot.

    Then, let's go with the assumption the above is not true: you're a god developer who never makes mistake and figures out everything on their own instantly. There's a lot of people who could use bouncing ideas off of YOU, who could discuss things with you, and may waste time, get blocked, or worse, make mistakes, if they can't get a hold of you in a timely manner. Sure, it will feel like you can't get anything done, but again, once the problem is solved, anyone can implement it: those "n00bs" that are pestering you will be able to do the easy part once they got the info they needed off of you.

    And once an office reach a certain size, sending an email or an instant message then waiting 10 minutes so you can be in a good spot to answer adds up to a lot of wasted time. In the end, there's a reason some very successful businesses keep paying a fortune in engineer salaries in SF, Boston, NY or Seattle to keep a critical mass of devs together. There's no substitute and it can often be worth the insane markup.

    Now there does come a time when you have to get the easy shit done, and there's a lot of easy shit to do. Library atmosphere sections in an office can take care of that. But if you're always there, or even if you're not but always have the noise cancelling headphones on because you're "OMG SO MUCH MORE PRODUCTIVE", you're honestly part of the problem. You're gonna look good in your yearly review, people may think you're fucking awesome. But as a small part of something bigger, you're just fucking everyone else over.

  • by thedarb ( 181754 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2014 @11:53PM (#48702093) Homepage

    If I can't get the guy on my left to shut up, the guy on right won't shut up. The guy on my left pretends he's the boss, and must interrupt our work ever 10 minutes to ask a question, or he doesn't feel important. And he is NOT the boss. The guy on the left wants to talk about guns and ham radio.

    I.. am... trying... to code / read a manual / deploy / or even, god forbid, eat lunch at my desk. Can you all PLEASE shut up? That's before all the walk-ups asking for help. File a ticket, stay in your seat, if I need to talk to you, I will come to you.

    Oh, and there is a meeting room right on the left that people love to stand outside of and have a pre-meeting before their meeting...

    And if you do manage to get to a tucked away quiet hidden corner, they bombard you with instant messages that the company makes you run.

    Everyone... Shut. The. Hell. Up! Let me work on the things officially in my ticket queue!!!

  • I bet if my workplace did this I could easily show how my ADD, combined with no way to visually exclude everyone, falls under the ADA and request specific accommodations. I work in a NOC though, so we're already kinda "open". I do have a cube upstairs, but I'm never actually in it. I think right now people have shoved various old desk chairs into it, the last time I cruised by there where four chairs in there, along with a note written on my whiteboard "I borrowed your screwdriver" from about 6 months ag
  • Well, maybe this might help? At least with this you can put on headphones and try to drown everyone else out: Ultimate Rain Sound Generator [mynoise.net]. I use it to take power naps all the time.
  • by TuballoyThunder ( 534063 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @12:12AM (#48702173)
    Having worked in both an "open" environment and a "closed" work environment, I would have have to say that I prefer the closed environment. However, most of the work that I do involves focusing on a "task." In my case I define "task" as doing research, writing, analyzing, formulating options. When I need to interact, I go to the person I want to talk to our grab a group to discuss in an open area. I can see the value of an "open" environment in a watch center environment or where the quick dissemination of shared information is important. When I need to focus, the open environment was horrible because there was not barrier to interruption. I think most open environments are setup backwards: The boss has a private area and the workers have privacy. I think a better model has the boss in an open area with the workers in private areas. That allows for a smooth flow information to the boss and the workers can concentrate on the assigned task.
  • by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @12:43AM (#48702315) Homepage Journal

    ...management began converting standard cubicles to an open plan that looked more like picnic tables than workspace. They provided chairs, not benches,true. And most important, you booked your space on a daily or weekly basis. But the reasons:

    - average actual occupancy in our building was 85%, and now have 65% more staff in the space.

    A direct quote from a manager, two years after introduction, during an explanation of the benefits intended for other managers: "This was a pure real estate play for us". It's successful.

    But it doesn't suit all workers

  • by josquin9 ( 458669 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @01:04AM (#48702439)

    Every manager I've questioned about the shortcomings of cubicles has said that it's good for intra-office communication and creative collaboration . . . before walking into their private office and shutting the door behind them. Even in an organization where they made a point that managers didn't have private offices (though, senior managers and executives, of course, still did) most of the managers camped out in the few small conference rooms where employees were supposed to be able to go for "spontaneous collaborative sessions."

    I guess this meant that they realized that they have nothing to offer intellectually or creatively to the work of the office.

  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @03:01AM (#48702875)
    We are still basically monkeys. I don't think that we monkeys can possibly work well in a group of 3,000. I am willing to bet that in that facebook nightmare that people have banded together into little micro tribes and even littler squads. The natural numbers would be in the ballpark of 150 and 7.

    So in an "open" office I would personally group people into small groups 5-7 in a single room and then cluster the rooms into a community of around 150 or less. Then basically don't depend on much real interaction between the communities except in the most general ways.

    This seems to be about how we evolved. I would think that facebook would already have figured this out in that I don't care how many "friends" you have on facebook that very few people would stay in contact with more than 150 in any real way and probably only have around 7 solid friends at any given time.

    Although there are probably a few outliers who do regularly stay in contact with many people and have a larger circle of friends but at the same time there would be a matching number on the other end of the bell curve who live a solitary existence. So unless a company is prepared to only hire from the 0.01% of humans who can manage 1,000s of lines of friendship then open plan is just wrong. It would be like working in an airport departure gate.
  • by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @04:30AM (#48703195)
    I'm in the UK and I've only ever workd in open plan offices. Never seen a cubicle in my life. We have entire open floors with maybe 500 people per floor. Everyone is on banks of desks, 4 each side facing each other, row after row. Quite often it's all hot desking anyway so very few people customise their space in any way. I did once, briefly but my stuff got pinched (prob cleaners or 'security'). We have breakout rooms for instant meetings but personally I find myself far more productive when I can just wander over and ask someone a question rather than wait for an IM or email to be responded to. Almost no one uses headphones and absolutely no one has audible music. Even having a ringtone is frowned upon, vibrate only. As I've never been in any other environment (and I'm now in my fifties) I really can't see the issue with concentration, you either tune out the chatter or find a breakout room for the rare times you really need to focus.

No amount of careful planning will ever replace dumb luck.

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