Hugh Pickens writes:
Lindsey Kaufman writes in the Washington Post that despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country with about 70 percent of US. offices having no or low partitions. Silcon Valley has led the way with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisting famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers with a single room, stretching 10 acres, where everyone will sit in the open with moveable furniture. Michael Bloomberg was an 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 with a 2013 study showing 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. 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 under-performance 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."
Should have used LibreOffice instead
Scientific American: How does background noise affect our concentration? [scientificamerican.com]
In short: It will make you and others perform bad, feel shit and eventually be sick. GTFO of any such place.
Management must learn to let go of their control mania. It's like quantum particles, once you observe it's disrupted.
I think you'll like it
I find that there are a few booleans that must be set to certain values for a person to be someone that I'd fundamentally dislike before I really even have the chance to "know" them. Enjoyment of that site is now another one on the list.
About six months ago, my company went to the "open office". We went from nice 6'x4' or so cubicles to a seat along a bench with about 2 cubic feet of storage and a desk smaller than I have at home. The lighting is stark bright, and I have no ability to tack diagrams or the like up on the walls anymore. I sit about 18 inches from the guy on my right, and so close to the guy behind me that he and I can't roll both our chairs back at the same time if we wanted to.
Overall, people have just gotten bitterer and more angry about their jobs. One guy is constantly tense and yells at people once a week or so. Other people are looking for new jobs. The noise doesn't get to me because I listen to punk at max volume all day long. The harsh full-bright LED lighting and the fact that someone can walk up behind you at any time does though. I liked the company and thought we were above brain-dead management fads, but apparently I was wrong. Right now I spend a lot of time trying to decide if it's pissing me off enough to leave.
What kind of work is it? (I'm trying to imagine any kind of work where that situation wouldn't be obviously catastrophic.)
That's the best part: It depends, and there's no method of organization to that extent.
I do dev work, and so does anyone behind me. The guys who sit on the other side of me do data center ops or something. They're on conference calls literally all day, and I make out bits and pieces about change requests and network settings and the like, so that's what I assume anyway. But it's not very fun trying to be focused in on something, and have people around you constantly talking, even when it's "approved" talk, and not just bullshitting.
Yeacchhhh. You have my enormous sympathies.
Get a new job. The one you have sucks. They don't deserve you.
Some people work by talking. All day long they talk to other people, usually by conference calls, which for some reason must be aired on speakerphone. How they accomplish anything by talking, I'll never understand, but they must be very important because every place I've worked has vast swarms of them.
Other people work by thinking. Concentrating, often, on hard problems. Concentration that is constantly broken by interruptions, or even incessant background noises, like the guy near me who has to bounce a ball off the wall every 3 seconds while conferencing. (Yes, he's still alive, remarkably.)
I once read a post saying it is not realistic when they hold your calculus final exam in a quiet room. To realistically prepare you for the workplace, the room should be full of socializing idiots who wander by and say something pointless to you just when you about have the problem cracked.
Why oh why do managers put talkers and thinkers together in the same workspace? Do they have any idea that they are killing 2 or more hours per day of productivity per thinker? Do they care? Wouldn't they want the improved quality and quantity of output???
But we have evolved a culture where you have to "tolerate" everyone, no matter how rude. The only thing that isn't tolerated is to point out to someone that they are being inconsiderate.
So, has anyone found a successful strategy for dealing with the noisy workplace, short of complaining to the boss, which just gets you on the "not a team player" list?
This is a solution [harborfreight.com]. Just add a proximity alert for any intrusive people to get your own peace zone.
For that extra deterrence add target seeking water jet ;)
In a sort of fight fire with fire move, I've found wearing a headset and listening to something that you don't have to pay attention to the lyrics helpful, even better if it is without words entirely. It gives me a single sound source that I can easily expect and allow me to focus on my task. For me, I think it is the disjointed cacophony of unexpectable noise that repeatedly breaks my attention. Granted, working on a team makes this solution less practical when dealing with the fires that occur during business hours. But when I need to focus to get my head around a particularly hard problem / project I happily shut everyone out with my over the ear headphones.
I have heard tell of one workplace [zgallerie.com] that has its retail-store background music played in its office space. Headphones and things that look like headphones are forbidden, because the corporate lords have seen fit to provide for music at some cost.
Skin colored ear plugs that are really headphones? :p
Or just inverted-phase speakers on the desk? ..(connect to roof speakers or whatever skew it the same length of time it takes to reach you and invert the amplitude)
This wasn't my workplace, but it was (and I suppose may still be) in Berkeley, CA, USA. I suggested a trip to the gun store for some suitable ear protection. Bonus points for ear protection that suggests to those who see it that one could have also purchased hardware and consumables.
I suggest shooting range hearing protection.
(Pick something that's logo-free, and workplace-safe. You can get them color-coordinated, too. Look for something that filters out as many decibels as possible - the more, the better.)
Good for data centers, too.
To realistically prepare you for the workplace, the room should be full of socializing idiots who wander by and say something pointless to you just when you about have the problem cracked.
Ask a moron who thinks open offices are a great idea if when you get called for an emergency while at home, you should take your laptop and run to the nearest playground or day care center and sit in the center of a cluster of little brats. Because obviously that'll do wonders for your productivity, just like at the office.
Or if you flex time / work at home, do all your work at a bar or strip club, because some moron told you continuous noise and distraction increases productivity.
Aside from the primate dominance ritual there's a large component of "who will go along to play along no matter how stupid of a thing I say" and "who is the biggest yes man no matter how dumb the idea" and "who really buys into and loves the idea of doublespeak despite that term's historical bad press and reputation". If half of mgmt is below the median WRT ethical / moral caliber, its a strong indication you're working for psychopaths / criminals or at least the rate is higher than normal.
We have these stupid (sometimes twice) daily conference calls which are completely useless. Everyone around me is cursed with these stupid conference calls, so we have a standard procedure:
1. Put the phone on mute and speakerphone2. Turn the volume down3. Blissfully allow the blather to fade into the background while you do real work.
Since someone almost always is stuck on a conference call nearby, the noise just fades into the background like the HVAC unit. Works surprisingly well and we are all pretty happy with the arrangement. Much better than actual meetings.
I never really got the gig on the B ark crashing on earth with middle managers and telephone sanitizers until we started having these conference calls. Now the phrase "573 committee meetings and you haven't even discovered fire!" takes on an entirely new meaning. Some of our conference calls are numbered, and yes we have had 3 digit numbers on some of them.
My personal take on was to give a lot more common areas for collaborative work, but not completely open. More like a conference room on steroids. While there would be no assigned offices, there would be private spaces where you could dock a laptop and have multimonitor support, USB strips, faster network access, "green screen" behind you and HD webcam, etc. It didn't have to be a full office exactly, but it would be more secluded and designed for privacy.
Perhaps something like hub and spoke with isolated conference rooms surrounded by those private pods. Conference rooms connected by hall ways or larger common areas. That always seemed to balance it out to me.
Because that's no way to start a flame war.
Unless there are significantly more private spaces than people needing them, I imagine my work day in a place like this would include some time-wasting process of finding a place to work. Why add that to my day, when you can build an office (or cube, if you must) once and amortize the cost of that office over people who use it for the life of the building?
I think you're assuming that a 1:1 relationship between private spaces and employees might be required. Also, a private space need not be that big, or specifically any larger than a normal sized cubicle enclosed with a partition door. In a good size conference room, you might get 6-8 private spaces around it. If you treat certain conference areas as department groupings, you might find that you're private space is more less reserved in the same way DHCP reservations work. Remember, I'm just working with the idea of equality between all the workers, and that any space can be occupied by anyone from TFS.
Breaks should be staggered anyways, and assigned to windows of time where uses cases require it like Call Centers. Employees should be encouraged to either leave the office and walk around (exercise), or go to the break room. Which can easily be encouraged by making private Internet use on the corporate network carry punishments up to being fired, yet providing unmonitored Internet connections in the break room. Don't want to be interviewed by HR and fired? Go to the break room. It's free, it's comfortable, it was made for you. There's a good amount of time spent talking and working with others before you go off on your own. For many reasons, I don't see 100% of the private spaces in use at any one time at 1:1. Besides, I'm sure that an optimum number could be figured out.
As for the reasons why, the few minutes it takes for you to find a place to sit down is well worth the increase in productivity and the overall feelings of happiness and wellness. For that matter, I don't think if the ratio of private spaces to open areas is all that difficult to figure out, or that you would be spending that much time finding a place for it to be disruptive. Also, why wouldn't the common area be the *first* place you sit down to speak with others and start your day? Unless your work sucks so much the real problem is being around others.
1. Management are too cheap to buy cubicles or offices.
2. Management believes that if they aren't able to see exactly what all their employees are doing at all times, the employees will slack off and they'll lose valuable time.
3. Nobody is thinking ahead.
Almost any other reason supplied is window dressing, because just about all research on the subject suggests private offices result in the best worker productivity, followed by relatively private cubicles.
Don't forget simple:
4) Primate dominance ritual
I've never seen an open office that doesn't have 89 billion class distinctions about who is worthy enough to reserve a conference room and basically take it over, who is worthy enough to have an actual cube, who is worthy enough to have an actual office. Usually strictly depends on management hierarchy rather than actual job needs. Its a brilliant beacon that management cares more about fighting internally to see who's worthy of slightly more or slightly less humane working conditions, than fighting external competitors.
Whenever management looks inwards, you as an employee must look outwards (to a new job). My advice as an old megacorporate minion is management by fad is signalling something important... its signalling they have no freaking idea what they're doing and you need to get out ASAP before the place collapses and the doors are chained shut one morning, or the place becomes a legendary resume stain. (Insert Arnie voice: Get to the choppa!)
The open office is great for brogrammers and their happy talk. Everything is "awesome", and when they come back from a meeting everyone nearby gets the blow-by-blow account where names are dropped, boasts about how clueless/impressed the folks from the more distant office and/or corporate function are, etc. Even when it's a doctor's appointment or personal meeting, we still get the blow by blow.
I'm sure in other fields, there's an equivalent for sorority sister talk.
Actually, it's still the norm in some fields (like journalism) and was the norm for workers in most white-collar jobs in the 1950's and 1960's. My mother used to tell me about her first day on the job in a newspaper working the city desk straight out of college: it was an actual desk, labelled "city desk," in a giant room full of other people talking on the phone, clacking on typewriters, and being efficient (and probably smoking back then too). She'd always been a sheltered little princess, so she'd never had to work around other people in a noisy place before. She complained to her editor, who told her to get her story written or find another job. She grew up fast and learned to work efficiently even if a war was going on around her.
The Facebook engineers sound like millennial princesses. I guess that's what most brogrammers are at heart. They need an editor from a 1960's newsroom to set their shit straight.
Everyone knows that journalists worked in open offices forever; it's in the movies. It sort of makes sense because it's a reminder that the real work takes place outside people's desks, they're supposed to be out on the street tracking down stories and on the phone setting up those appointments.
Things were different in established engineering companies in the '80s. People had private offices; younger workers shared an office. Yes, startups were cube farms except that management had private offices; this was to save money on floor space.
Journalism doesn't require the same kind (or amount) of concentration as keeping thousands of lines of code straight in your mind while trying to track down an obscure edge case.
Silcon Valley has led the way with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisting famed architect Frank Gehry ...
I've been working in this type of open office layout since this twerp was in diapers.....
My lawn, dammit!!! You're ruining the grass.
I'm a bay area guy and have been for at least 25 years, now. I'm working at cisco these days and cisco is converting to 'open offices'. they seem to have drunk the koolaid and they are changing their offices, building by building. I HATE IT.
my last job was an open office. no one I talked to liked it. HR said everyone would apapt. we adapted by working from home more, not being able to have any privacy at all at work meant we had to do things we should do during the day, some other time. this costed work-day time loss, not gain!
conference room use went up a lot and it was soon hard to even GET a room, they were always in use. this is proof that people NEED their own space to get personal shit done, in today's world.
the noise was horrible. people got sick from each other (coughs, sneezing).
overall, it was a full failure. but HR still would never admit they were wrong.
like ceo's and presidents, HR never will admit they made a bone-head decision. they think it saves money, somehow. and bosses love to 'see' that you are working. but for us workers, its ONLY a step backward with nothing to benefit anyone in the working trenches.
just more dehumanization from an already non-caring corporate-controlled world ;(
overall, it was a full failure. but HR still would never admit they were wrong.
I'm sure HR and the big bosses are also on the floor too, eh? If they're not, maybe you should encourage them to join you on the floor if it's so productive. ;)
Actually, that brings up a question in my mind. I've never had the luck to work in an open office before, but I sometimes had to work on private things for HR via my work computer -- things dealing with salary or (supposedly) anonymous surveys. How does that work in an open office? How does one keep these things private? It was hard enough in a cubicle.
maybe you should encourage them to join you on the floor if it's so productive. ;)
If only it were that easy. Us workers were moved to the open-office layout, my manager went from an office down to a cube, and director level and above retained their offices. The CIO even had the balls to send out an email telling us "the open floor plan is not a downgrade" - if it's not a downgrade why does he have to convince anybody? I suppose it's OK as long as I keep getting paid...posting as AC for safety FTW
For years I tolerated a six figure paid asshole constantly talking socialising and avoiding work. At least some times he talked loudly in other bays. I worked hard even so far as doing his work.
Then they spent million "upgrading" the building. All of the bays were ripped out to be replaced with colorful low partition desks. Senior managers kept their offices.
Productivity took a nosedive. Moral went out the window. Software releases slowed. Talking and socialising increased. People left. Hundreds.
The asshole who used to just be a PITA turned into a rampaging offensive sociopath. His favorite activity was to stand next to someone's desk for hours talking. Mine usually. He managed to drive one person to complete distraction.
With the new low partitions it was hell. A contractor quit rather than work near him. Three permanent staff left. No one wants to work near him. Management do nothing.
This open plan theory is complete bullshit. How anyone can work with sound bouncing across the floors I don't know.
Recently our pay was tied to Productivity Gains. What utter crap. The best way to improve productivity would be to bring back partitioned bays.
I am distracted every time someone walks past my bays or laughs their head off. About every two minutes.
Destroy's the work place ??? Really ???
I think the non open plan office space setup is more typical in the US, it's a cultural thing that people are used to. In the UK open plan has always been the norm and the work place is a live and well, despite what you may think a lot of work gets done too. The head line is a complete over dramatisation, for all the bad things about an open office there are plenty you can list about a closed office.
Working with other people talking near you might be hard to start with but it isn't something you can't over come and get used to, its like living in a quiet neighbourhood and then suddenly moving to a noisy area (I have done this), its odd at first but over time you get used to it and when moving back to a quiet area you find that odd.
despite what you may think a lot of work gets done too
With all due respect, using the UK as a shining example of the right thing to do is not wise. Every once in a while they'll be some story about how if the UK rejoined the colonies, England would be one of the poorest per capita income states in the USA, poorer than even our deep south which for all intents and purposes is basically 3rd world villages transplanted into the USA.
I'm no fool and you guys being hopelessly screwed up "in general on average" doesn't mean every small component of what you do is inherently screwed up. But "hey guize we make Mississippi look wealthy and we do it all the time so it must be a great idea" puts open offices right up there with sniffing gasoline (aka petrol) or drinking large quantities of cough syrup.
I like that you guys are dirt poor, because every time the local savages do something typically savage, as they often do, their political apologists always claim they only act like savages because they're poor, and then I bring up you UK people who despite your grinding poverty generally are more civilized and better educated than us, and your crime rate is what we would consider a rounding error compared to our huge rates. So just because you live in poverty and can't run an economy other than into the ground, doesn't mean I don't respect your countries considerable achievements in numerous other areas.
While I do share your dislike for open office arrangements, I must admit I have no idea whether office culture in the UK (or a bit of common sense regarding noise) could make them work.
Nevertheless, for me as a foreigner, it is really hard to discern whether what you posted could make native speakers perceive you as funny or an ignorant.The choice of words and comparisons does seem quite harsh.
Maybe it would be helpful if, in the future, you could include something like APPLAUSE! tags where one is supposed to laugh?
That is odd, it really seems to be a cultural thing.
In Germany, at least according to my experience in engineering, one to eight person offices with proper walls and an actual door are far more common, large cubicles farms like in the US are rather uncommon. For me, at least, this working environment does not make me less productive. I work in a two person office, and the other person is just enough to not make you think nobody would notice if you don't work and also not distract you too much if you have to think about a problem.
A friend of mine had his company taken over by HP a few years ago and they changed everything to cubicles. He hated it so much, he changed jobs.
Always been the norm in the UK? Rubbish. I am there and have worked in quite few places, and really it's only recent years that large open offices have become a fad. Typically, following WW2 until the 80's or later, many public service offices used the former hospitals built for air-raid casualties. A "ward" accommodated only about 8 workers with a team leader or computer terminal in the former matron's office. Otherwise I've worked in 3-4 person offices till recently.
Managers like large open offices because they can keep an eye on skiving. I hate them, and won't get used to them. Depends on your personality. Some people, generally arts types, need others making a din around them for motivation. I don't; I need quiet for motivation.
By open plan I was more talking about there not being partitions separating every single person, I understand that not every room is large but a small room can still be open plan.
I am obviously in the minority here, but I quite like the open office feel. Where I work there is a big open room with IT people in, I can interact with my colleges quite easily, people don't spy on other people or comment what's on their screen where I work, people are generally more sociable with each other which makes it more of a fun place to work in and it also makes it easier to make the hard decisions when they need to be made.
I understand this isn't for everyone but the headline makes it sounds like its for no one and that the end of the world is close.
Yes, open plan can work in some cases. Especially if only people around you are members of your team, and do similar work. In such cases, it can even be beneficial in that you are always informed about everything that goes on, or can bounce your ideas off of someone.
I always thought this looked like a fun place to work:
Everyone gets their own office within a little faux house on wheels. Depending upon what project you are working on you move your house/office across the warehouse floor in proximity to your team. Meeting spaces are free form on the "street" between the houses.