Open Office Spaces Now Suck…But wait for it…

This just in! Google got it wrong! It seems like we keep hearing that more and more these days. The company that seemingly invited HR and Talent Acquisition keeps getting it wrong. This time, it’s around the open office concept. To be fair to Google, they weren’t the first ones to jump on the open office bandwagon. They just became the poster child for crazy office spaces gone wild. From The Washington Post:

Despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country. Now, about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association. Silicon Valley has been the leader in bringing down the dividers. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Goldman Sachs and American Express are all adherents.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisted famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers. And as a businessman, Michael Bloomberg was an early adopter of the open-space trend, saying it promoted transparency and fairness. He famously carried the model into city hall when he became mayor of New York,  making “the Bullpen” a symbol of open communication and accessibility to the city’s chief.One more reason we should be allowed to work from home!…

…But employers are getting a false sense of improved productivity. A 2013 study found that 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 for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. Meanwhile, “ease of interaction” with colleagues — the problem that open offices profess to fix — was cited as a problem by fewer than 10 percent of workers in any type of office setting. In fact, those with private offices wereleast likely to identify their ability to communicate with colleagues as an issue. In a previous study, researchers concluded that “the loss of productivity due to noise distraction … was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices.”

But wait for it…

Why is all of this Open Office hating coming out right now? Are open offices really that bad? My own opinion is that the office furniture industry is truly behind all of this anyway. Every decade or so, they need to sell new furniture and the way to do that is to tell executives that a new design will give them magical productivity gains and super happy employees! Just buy our new desk and chair!

I suspect this round of Open Office hating is coming from another corner of the universe. Can you guess?  So, closed offices don’t work. You don’t get collaboration. Open offices don’t work, because you don’t get privacy. So, what are we HR Pros to do?

Oh, I have an idea, came from the corner, of the employees who just don’t’ feel cozy enough at work!  The NEW research says that Working From Home is the real answer to all of our problems!  Yep. Open offices suck because working from home is soooo much better!

Did you see that coming?

There are seven-year-old kids in China making $100 Nikes by candle light, and amazingly their productivity goes up every day! Be careful about getting pulled down the rabbit hole of what next great office design will ‘fix’ your company.  Everyone has an agenda. Your employees who really would rather just work from home. The office supply companies who need to push product. The HR executive who needs productivity increases to show the board or at least, a reason we aren’t getting them!

What is the magical office design after work from home crashes?  I hear working from the beach in Cayman really, really increases productivity!

6 thoughts on “Open Office Spaces Now Suck…But wait for it…

  1. Straw man article. A jeering tone in lieu of a reasoned argument. Nobody is saying closed offices don’t work. Unless you were working in the 1980s to mid 90s, you won’t even remember them.

    In fact, closed offices work rather well. I had one when I worked in a large company in London in the early 1990s. A quiet, orderly environment where I could concentrate and get my boring legal drafting done without interruptions and noise. WFH is very similar, except I don’t need to waste time commuting.

    I’d happily work in a proper traditional office, or in my home study (yes, I’ve got one; yes, I’m privileged, deal with it); but your sneering jibe that we’d all want to work in a beach somewhere is bitter, and somewhat contrived. Essentially, you’re a control freak manager who thinks anyone who doesn’t want to be in a cubicle farm is a slacker, who needs to be monitored by serious people like you.

    This also reveals you to be someone who has no concept of managing by output. If people have real work ot do, and they get it done; it doesn’t matter where they do it. If, by contrast, they have nothing to do, then they can’t be monitored by outcomes, and so we need to shove them into a chicken farm environment and stare at them while they pretend to be busy.


    A beach would be a horrible place to work – sunlight blinding you, sand in your keyboard, squawking gulls, noisy waves, fit birds in bikinis – altogether, an absolute no-no for work.

    And fun only exists in contradistinction to not-fun.

    For any workaholic, pissing about on beaches soon palls – I like a bit of relaxation, but only when I feel I’ve earned it.

    I need a monastic space to do my work. I don’t care where that space is.

  2. In my opinion as an introverted person, open office space setting really sucks but somehow I’m getting used to it, but at the same time I am very open and preferably wants the idea of working at home. For us introverts, we really love to have privacy and working at home for sure is one of the best solution. Most of the introverts would agree with my statements above, but for some I guess, they would also settle for a working environment that allows collaboration and lots of interaction with co-workers. It is part of our transition phase to become more outgoing and be more sociable, specially when we are in a corporate world.

  3. I heard Hawaii is good this time of year 🙂 but in all seriousness i’m not sure those kids in China have much say in their productivity unfortunately 🙁

  4. Like anything else you have to look at your environment and what your employees do. I worked for a brokerage for 5 years and I firmly believe open office made sense for what we were doing and I loved the noise…when I was doing brokerage work. When I was reading resumes to select candidates for hiring or writing a position statement, that environment was the worst. I had to leave to floor to get anything done. Open office is not one size fits all, but it has been treated that way.

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